The London Coliseum is used to welcoming bats around Christmas time when Die Fledermaus puts in an appearance, but it has never experienced anything like the long-anticipated arrival of the ultimate juke box musical, based on all three of the ‘Bat’ albums put together by Jim Steinman, and incarnated so memorably by Meat Loaf. All the most memorable numbers have been threaded together into a storyline that resembles Peter Pan superficially but is very much indebted to the louche and lush aesthetic of We Will Rock You and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. What we have here is a self-conscious throwback to the romantic 1980s, a rock-and-roll musical from a pre-RENT world, something that was reflected as much in the age profile of the audience as in the show.
At the heart of it is the relationship between Strat (Andrew Polec) and Raven (Christina Bennington), and the attempts of Raven’s parents, Falco (Rob Fowler) and Sloane (Sharon Sexton) to keep them apart. The setting is a dystopian post-apocalyptic Manhattan in which Strat’s gang are confined to an underworld existence and never grow older than eighteen, and Raven inhabits a glitzy world of high-rise privilege with her squabbling and debauched parents, who are masters of all they survey. Aspiration, sexual awakening, betrayal, and defiance and resentment of authority in all its forms are much in evidence.
These are perennial themes of social and inter-generational conflict and they run well with the grain of a succession of peerless, defiant power ballads that are the core of Steinman’s catalogue. They are coupled here to a spectacular, flexible architectural set by Jon Bausor, and an extraordinary lighting design by Patrick Woodroffe that makes full use of all this theatre has to offer. When linked to the tight, imperious pit band coordinated by Robert Emery, and some exemplary lead voices the show produces one set-piece extravaganza after another that compels awe and admiration for the technical bravura stamina of all concerned.
Polec and Bennington have golden voices for this repertoire, never showing any sense of strain amidst the most physical kind of acting you can imagine. But they are matched at every point by Fowler and Sexton, who are outstanding for their comic timing as well as their vocal panache and bold swagger around the stage. Fowler in particular, like the best of pantomime villains, threatened to steal the show in a way that reminds you of Alan Rickman’s famous turn as the Sheriff of Nottingham . There is full fat singing from the chorus too, and especially Danielle Steers as one of the few characters who crosses the social divide.
The evening is best approached from a distance and not with close inspection. If you stop to consider you then you might begin to think the whole show is totally bonkers, and you would notice the clunky, protracted dialogue, dodgy video projections, and very poor choreography where the dancers seem detached from the drama and the actions of the main characters. It is also too long, as if the structure were dictated by the need to include every famous song.
So how to assess this extraordinary confection? It is dated but in a good way: inescapably a celebration of the musical excesses of the 1980s, this musical does full visual justice to the larger than life personalities of each of the numbers, and could not be better sung, played or projected by a crack cast and creative team. It will doubtless find many new audiences, and on this showing deserves to.