Reviewed by Judy Richter
An article in a tabloid newspaper, Weekly World News, the kind that helps pass the time in the grocery checkout line, inspired composer-lyricist Laurence O'Keefe and book-story authors Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming to create "Bat Boy: The Musical." It's being presented by Foothill Music Theatre under the direction of Jay Manley.
Set in the tiny town of Hope Falls, W.Va., the story concerns the discovery of a strange creature -- it has a human form but bat-like ears and fangs -- hanging from the roof of a cave. The townspeople capture him and deliver him to the local veterinarian, Dr. Parker (Tim Reynolds), who they hope will dispose of him humanely. Instead, the vet's wife, Meredith (Lisa-Marie Newton), prevails upon him to keep the bat boy at their home. She names him Edgar (Robert Brewer) and, assisted by her teenage daughter, Shelley (Kateri McRae), teaches him to speak with the help of BBC language tapes, which leave him with an English accent and refined manners.There's only one problem: He won't eat anything but blood. In the meantime, the townsfolk suspect that he's responsible for a rash of cattle deaths and agitate to have him killed or removed.
A final plot twist has shades of some of Shakespeare's comedies, while the ending carries overtones of the Bard's tragedies. Along the way, lovers of musical theater will have fun finding allusions to such classics as "Sweeney Todd," "My Fair Lady," "Jesus Christ, Superstar," "Evita," The Lion King" and probably some others that I missed. There also is skewering of Christian hypocrisy and fear of and prejudice against those who don't fit the accepted norm.
The company includes five performers who play just one character, five who play a variety of roles and five who serve as the Shadow Chorus. Besides Brewer, Reynolds, Newton and McRae, the other single-character performer is Todd Wright, who plays the sheriff, a man who wants to do what's right but who also is mindful that he has to run for re-election soon. Those who play a variety of roles of both genders are David Cates, Sarah B. Griner, Monique Hafen, Michael Rhone and RaMond Thomas. Brewer is the only Equity performer. He's not quite acrobatic enough for the role, but he sings and acts well. Moreover, he was a late fill-in for an actor who withdrew from the production. All of the others are students or community members who acquit themselves quite well as both singers and actors. The four-person orchestra is conducted from the keyboard by musical director Spencer Williams.
Bruce McLeod created the flexible set, aided by Joe Ragey's projections and Kurt Landisman's lighting. Andy Heller's sound design is noteworthy for the sound of dripping water that the audience hears before the show starts and in its first scene. Costumes are by Julie Engelbrecht. "Bat Boy: The Musical" isn't always a feel-good show, but it's so goofy at times that it's fun. It's also well done, a hallmark of this community college-based company.
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