A few times during Thursday’s opening night of the Endicott Performing Arts Company’s Bat Boy — The Musica (July 17)l, I couldn’t help but note a few eyebrows lift around me as if to say, “What just happened there?”
To illustrate: a miked performer trades ear-splitting volume for emotion. Eyebrows.
The actors and singers prepare to set up another groan-inducing scene to further explain what’s goin’ on. Eyebrows.
The ensemble gathers in some kind of hellish tableau of anthropomorphized beasts while singing “Children, children” with the god Pan (Aaron Sargeant). Um, wait, whaaat? More, eyebrows.
OK, this was opening night, always a factor. And the company, directed by Patrick Foti, with music direction by Jenny Gac, choreography by Emily Foti and costumes by Pat Foti and the cast, milked every unabashedly ridiculous moment from the show. And why not?
I get that it’s supposed to be a campy, fun, incarnation of an idea that Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming (book) and Laurence O’Keefe (music and lyrics) apparently came up with in 1992, based on the grocery store tabloid Weekly World News and its recurring headliner, the “Bat Boy.” As a morality play, or a civics lesson, it’s too silly, and falls flat. And if it’s a comedy, a brief improv or scripted sketch material would have sufficed. But this musical made it to off-Broadway, according to Wikipedia, and continues to be produced around the world, so that says a lot.
Like the Bat Boy stories in that tabloid, the musical is set in coal mining country in West Virginia, where miners have swapped out their black lung jobs for farming, only to find that something has been terrorizing (and eating) their cows. When three curious teens are attacked in a cave, one of them seriously, this mutant cross between Mr. Spock, Eddie Munster and Tarzan is finally captured. He is Bat Boy, also known as “Edgar.”
The folksy sheriff, played by Michael Farley, dumps him off at the home of a veterinarian, Dr. Parker, played amiably, then menacingly, by Brett Nichols. His wife, Meredith (Melissa Walker), and his nubile daughter, Shelly (Heather Marlis), have to figure out what to do with the boy, gamely portrayed by the first-ever recipient of the Angelo Zuccolo scholarship for excellence in theater, the flexible Jeff Tagliaferro. (Watch for his perfect impersonation (intentional or not) of Martin Short’s comic character, Jackie Rogers, teeth and all. Perfect!)
Some of the musical numbers have a forced quality and would have benefitted from a little editing a long time ago. Not the fault of the actors, but of the score. Most of the songs don’t take advantage of Walker’s really beautiful singing voice. That said, the bulk of the company numbers are entertaining, and there are some really solid performances.
Colin Cook as the rancher, Mr. Dillon; Matt Gaska as the revival preacher, Rev. Hightower, and the portrayers of Rick (Nic Tagliaferro), Ron (Corey Brady), Ruthie (Skylar Bennett) and Mrs. Taylor (Andy Shaul) were all good. I also liked the suitably redneck portrayals of Lydia Dozoretz, Kate VanKeuren, Lindsay Cupelo and Andy Sweet as Maggie, Daisy, Bud and Clem respectively.
The themes are explored literally ad mortem here: Who is the Bat Boy? Where did he come from? Is he as dangerous as he looks? Can he be tamed? Can he be loved? Will the evangelical community in the play reject him Will the evil veterinarian (who only wants to put him down to regain the lost affection of his wife) succeed?
All legitimate questions, but do they merit a fully staged musical with rambling songs and shameless attempts to compare his story to that of so many other misfits — the opera phantoms, the beasts, the ogres, the hunchbacks, the monsters? Nah. There are probably a few more, but my mind wandered a bit after the scene at Hightower’s tent revival. Oh, did I mention that there is a revival? Any opportunity for a chorus swell of gospel music is a good one in a show, and the dissonance at this revival is worth waiting for, I think.
What Bat Boy does have going for it, as put on by the cast here, is a lot of energy, pretty good execution of the funnier lines and physical bits. One of my companions, the Connecticut playwright Anna Maria Trusky, who has had a short play produced at the Know Theatre in Binghamton, enjoyed the show and told me that she gave a lot of credit to EPAC for even attempting what is, truthfully, difficult material. This group has cojones, she said, after searching (as a playwright does) for just the right word. So she gets it, and some of the lines, are laugh-out-loud funny.
If you would like to experience Bat Boy — The Musical under the stars, it runs again at 8 p.m. today and Sunday, (July 19 and 20) at The Stage at Little Italy, George W. Johnson Park, Oak Hill Avenue, Endicott. Tickets are $10 at the park. Bring a lawn chair, bug spray,and a blanket. Refreshments are available during intermission.