Take Peter Pan with elements of Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story, Dirty Dancing and rock musicals American Idiot and We Will Rock You, and you have Bat Out Of Hell.
Arena musicals are a rarity these days, but none are as explosive as the epic, rock and roll theatrical spectacular, Bat Out Of Hell!
The award-winning hit musical featuring Jim Steinman and Meatloaf’s greatest hits concluded its first international tour at Rod Laver Arena with over 8,000 people in attendance. The atmosphere was palpable from both the stage performances and eager audience members in anticipation.
Before the house lights went down, performers slowly made their way onto the stage, lounging, along with a camera operator, whose footage was projected onto the large projector screens (also used to help establish locations as well as introduce new songs/chapters). Then, “like a Bat Out Of Hell”, the music kicked into gear with an echoing roar setting the energy alight.
The show itself is minimal in size. There are no set pieces, just some clever industrial hardware – on the left is an arch for screen transitions, and on the right is a platform signifying a bed inside a tall skyscraper. The additional section of protruding stage took the production to another level. Although, from the photography I’ve seen, the set design varies from location to location.
What it lacks in visuals is forgiven as the production more than makes up for it with its large cast of characters, colourful costumes and inspired choreography by Jon Bausor and Meentje Nielsen. If anything, there’s almost too much to look at, and the addition of sets would be for naught.
Bat Out Of Hell is a futuristic tale of hot-blooded passion, youthful rebellion and living the rock and roll dream. The musical is a loose retelling of Peter Pan, set in post-apocalyptic Manhattan (now named 'Obsidian'). It follows Strat, the forever young leader of 'The Lost' who has fallen in love with Raven, daughter of Falco, the tyrannical leader of Obsidian.
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It features many of Meatloaf’s greatest hits, including I’d Do Anything For Love, You Took The Words Right out of my Mouth (Hot Summer Night), All Revved Up With Nowhere To Go, Heaven Can Wait, Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad, Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Dead Ringer For Love, It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, Bat Out Of Hell and two new Steinman originals written for the show.
While not wholly original, the show is more cohesive than your average jukebox musical because Steinman originally intended that many of his songs tell a story like this one. Meatloaf’s 1977 album of the same name, and one of the best-selling albums in history, was developed from a musical called Neverland, a futuristic rock version of Peter Pan, which he workshopped in 1974.
Another strength is its high-energy cast and the strength of their vocals.
The chemistry between couples Glenn Adamson and Kellie Gnauck (Strat and Raven), Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton (Falco and Sloane), Jayme-Lee Zanoncelli and James Chisholm (Zahara and Jagwire) is strong. There’s also Tink (Matteo Johnson), a young boy in love with Strat, and an equally impressive supporting cast.
You could tell everyone was having a good time on stage, and that rubbed off on the audience, who cheered, danced and sang along to every word.
Amongst its cliches and stereotypes, though, there were questions. Why will Strat and his gang of lost youths remain young forever? Who knows. The less you think about it, the better. The story is not the point here. Everyone was there for the music, and it was glorious. You’re almost programmed as an audience member to turn off your brain, forget about it, and enjoy the ride.
If Bat Out Of Hell ever returns to Australia, I’d recommend seeing it. Then again, it’s a musical worth travelling for. With its almost three-hour runtime, you certainly get your money’s worth. However, those looking for a deep, complex story with gripping character arcs, stay far, far away.
Be prepared for smoke machines, flame special effects and confetti cannons, and surprisingly some laughs too, and to leave feeling energised, appreciative of Meatloaf and Steinman’s ingenious catalogue of recognisable songs from one of the best-selling albums in history, and perhaps nostalgia, if you’re of that age.
The best musicals have a cohesive narrative, compelling visuals and inspired music. This show lacks the first, but as Steinman put it himself, two out of three ain’t bad.
Despite its sameness and obvious problems, it provided one of the more unique theatre-going experiences and, overall, was some top-notch entertainment.