“Bat Boy: The Musical” is not about baseball, nor Batman’s son. The rock musical chronicles the tale of a half-boy, half-bat found in the woods off a small, conservative, Southern town. It’s an absurd tale that BareStage never flinches in delivering, much to the audience’s confused delight.
The town’s rejection of the “bat boy,” later named Edgar (Jackson Paddock), solely based upon his pointed ears and bloodlust tendencies, is meant to prompt the audience to examine their own prejudices and biases. While this task was a tad too ambitious to imbue upon a campy, horror-rock musical, the seriousness with which the company takes upon itself to present this message is laudable; it’s arguably the factor that makes their staging work.
Perhaps what helped the troupe achieve its goals was its synergy. As director Teddy Lake shared in interviews with The Daily Californian, the cast not only practiced lines in rehearsals, but also worked to build a full comprehension of the curious world of “Bat Boy.” This is best reflected in the facial expressions of the ensemble throughout any scene or musical number: at any given moment, the (typically humorous) disgust or shock of each cast member is incredibly, individually interpreted by each exaggerated mug.
Though the musical deliberately refuses to cement itself as a comedy or drama, most of the show’s genuine laughs come from the endearing earnestness with which Jackson Paddock plays Edgar. From his humorous humming along to the musical numbers that occur adjacent to his a metal dog cage, to his adorable finger wags once he becomes an “intellectual,” Paddock’s portrayal never once winks at the audience’s laughter, his sincerity allowing the effectiveness of the role’s humor.
It’s the heart Paddock instills in Edgar that allows for the cruelty and social ostracism the bat boy faces to be played with (what BareStage finds to be) their due gravity. Edgar’s heart is rivaled only by that of matriarch Meredith Parker (Josie Clark), who “civilizes” Bat Boy and whose perfectly executed numbers “A Home For You” and “Three Bedroom House” hint at classical training, the performances cementing her as one of the cast’s strongest vocal performers. But it’s Clark’s comedic timing and dramatic versatility within BareStage’s desired framework that allows Mrs. Parker to be the show’s most well-rounded and complex character.
Meredith’s murderous husband, veterinarian Dr. Parker (Ethan Glasman), is awarded the opening notes of showstopper and Act 1 finale “Comfort and Joy,” which brilliantly combines Glasman’s voice with the ensemble’s whole-bodied choreography and eerie use of the set. The number itself sounds near-identical to “Legally Blonde – Remix,” another musical composed by Laurence O’Keefe. In “Bat Boy,” O’Keefe’s tunes are defiantly catchy, with BareStage’s cast aided in their vocal executions by the much talented pit (or rather, stage left) orchestra of six.
The eccentricity of the show is immediately embraced right from its opening number, “Hold Me, Bat Boy,” which transitions from a quiet, B-grade horror film introduction into a jolting, flamboyant dance number. This utter lack of conventionality continues in the unexplained animal dance orgy of “Children, Children,” the highlight of Act 2. In both of these songs (and all of the musical’s numbers), the whip-smart, fast-paced choreography by Joe Ayers, chops proven in his choreographing of “Heathers: The Musical,” was complemented nicely by Brennan Martin and Katie Basu’s frantic, flashing multicolored lighting design.
Yet the musical falters with the reveal of Bat Boy’s creation, told under two unwavering spotlights. It’s a deeply disturbing scene that feels off-mark although completely on-brand within this staging of the musical’s narrative. To not make light of sexual assault, the company justly removed all physical jokes from the scene. Though this decision was well-intentioned, the scene is skin-crawling uncomfortable without any true need for it to be, an attempt to reconcile a problematic script that results in the anticipated explanation feeling largely unnecessary.
While the company’s serious approach allowed the musical its success in execution, it also caused the horrific — though justly reworked — origin story moment, a dark blemish on the production. Throughout the rest, “Bat Boy” shines with the company’s refusal to flinch or play up the laughs of even its most preposterous moments.
Ridiculous and charming at its peak moments of “comfort and joy” and disconcerting at its darker parts, “Bat Boy” provides a surreal experience that costs less than an Acid trip.
“Bat Boy” will play at UC Berkeley’s Choral Rehearsal Hall through Sunday, Nov. 19.
Caroline Smith covers theater. Contact her at [email protected].