Posted in Indianapolis theater: reviews

“Bat Boy” at Theatre on the Square

4.5 stars

I said it before in 2002 when Bat Boy: The Musical had its Indianapolis premiere at the Phoenix Theatre, and I am going to say it again: Any show that is able to include a stuffed-animal orgy has got to get all kinds of props. Nothing is quite like watching interspecies animal hand puppets banging on each other while the god Pan encourages them in song. (Interesting side note: Not only was Pan renowned for his sexual prowess, but he was also considered the god of theatrical criticism by the Greeks.)

Theatre on the Square is presenting this campy musical for its third Indianapolis staging, this time under the direction of Zach Neiditch. While the above-mentioned scene is perhaps the funniest (tears—tears running down my face from laughter), there is more. The show is filled with astonishing mullets, melodramatic secrets, outrageous songs, a glowing cross, and British pantomime-inspired characters (as in cross-dressing). Most people are familiar with the 1992 Weekly World News series, and the musical aims to shed some light on Bat Boy’s origins in a dust speck of a hick town in West Virginia.

Of course, the star of the show is Bat Boy, who is soon renamed Edgar, portrayed by Justin Klein. Klein does a spectacular job of transitioning from a cave-dwelling, grunting wild child to an eloquent, proper young man, complete with a British accent. Not only is his transformation remarkable, but he occasionally lets the Bat Boy’s mannerisms slip out when he is scared or confused. This nuanced piece of theatricality reminds the audience of Bat Boy’s duel with his new persona.

Bat Boy is flanked by the town veterinarian Thomas (Dave Ruark, who was also in the 2002 production but in a different role), his wife Meredith (Mindy Morton), and their teenage daughter Shelley (Devan Mathias). Ruark captures Thomas’s gradual decent into murderous mayhem while enabling Bat Boy’s thirst for blood. His vocals were a bit sharp Saturday night, but I’ve seen Ruark in scores of productions, and I’m betting that he just had an off night. Morton is perfect as the long-suffering wife, and Mathias’s mixture of angst and idealism reflects a teen to a T. (She also gets to bust some moves.)

The supporting company in various roles plays their parts up for hilarity, and vocal director David Barnhouse teases impressive performances out of the whole cast. Don’t forget about the hard-working band behind the curtain under the musical direction of Jeffrey Bowen. Scenes, makeup, lighting, sound direction—it’s all good. This is quite an accomplishment for TOTS.

My only nitpicks are the small areas the cast had to work with and the mics being turned on and off for songs and dialogue respectively. The stage felt cramped during large numbers, and while the mics picked up the actors’ voices beautifully, I was too aware of the switch. However, that could easily just be me being a nag.

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freelance editor and writer

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