Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the June 20, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Off-Broadway Review: `Bat Boy’
Ask a Broadway smart aleck the question "What is
satire?" and the answer has traditionally been "It’s what
closed last Saturday night." If this is no longer the case on
Broadway where the unsubtle satires "The Producers" and
Street" are gargantuan hits, it is also no longer the case
where two offbeat satirical musicals — "Bat Boy" and
— are similarly delighting capacity audiences. "Urinetown"
is already set to move on to Broadway in August.
Just in case you happened to pick up the tabloid Weekly World News
instead of U.S. 1 Newspaper at the supermarket one day in the early
1990s, you would have come across a sensational story about the
discovery, in a West Virginia cave, of a creature, half-man half-bat.
As fate would have it, collaborators Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
(book) and Laurence O’Keefe (music and lyrics) did pick up that
and decided that the oddities and absurdities of the story had all
the elements for an engaging musical. Certainly not since the
gory "The Little Shop of Horrors" refreshed the shlocky
film of the same name with songs and dances, has there been a musical
to endear us so winningly to the bizarre and grotesque.
The plot spins around the attempts of a strange and unsettling family
to harbor, protect, and educate the creature, even as the
and fearful townspeople appear more wantonly out for blood. At the
center of the action is Deven May’s fearlessly hyper-kinetic portrayal
of the craving-to-be-accepted freak. Characterized by pointy ears
and protruding rodent-like teeth, the ungainly Bat Boy is soon seen
as the most appealing figure among the residents in this dysfunctional
town aptly named Hope Falls.
Just slightly less dysfunctional is the family that assumes the role
of Bat Boy’s guardian and protector. This is after the sheriff
the frightened cave-dwelling oddity to the home of Thomas Parker,
the town veterinarian, for observation.
The small-scaled musical has only nine performers who essay a
of oddball characters. Most of them are expectedly batty and are
as brainlessly misguided in their attempts to become cattle ranchers
in this rocky and cavernous terrain as they are in their vindictive
quest to capture and kill the mutant creature that has bitten one
of the locals.
Musically the show is propelled by a bright and lively score that
makes no apologies for its blatant and irreverent spoofing (in the
same manner as Mel Brooks with "The Producers") of a slew
of the most recognizable and familiar musical styles from "My
Fair Lady" to "Rent" to "The Lion King." Oldsters
as well as youngsters will easily catch the laugh-inducing references
as quickly as they will enjoy the dumbing down of the genre. Teens
will likely make this show a cult favorite. It’s a natural: the
hero is an outcast, a misunderstood loner amongst people who will
not accept him for who and what he is. Even if he does prefer blood
Kaitlin Hopkins is excellent as Meredith, Bat Boy’s sheltering mom
who, with the help of her teenage daughter Shelley, played with spunk
by Kelley Butler, helps Bat Boy cum Edward speak like a proper
with the help of BBC language tapes. Without giving away the plot,
let’s say that a family secret is unearthed as well as an unexpected
villain. Under Scott Schwartz’s comically driven direction, "Bat
Boy" flaps amusingly around Richard Hoover and Bryan Johnson’s
eerily effective two-tiered setting. Three stars. You won’t feel
— Simon Saltzman
York. $55. Ticketmaster, 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
As long as spoofing musical styles and genres are the
theater season’s rage, composers Mark Hollmann (music and lyrics)
and Greg Kotis (book and lyrics) of "Urinetown" could not
have picked a more appropriate source for their irreverent and
funny American fantasy than the sardonic, socio-political work that
inspired European collaborators Bertoldt Brecht and Kurt Weil
Threepenny Opera"). Notwithstanding their generous nod as well
to Americans composer Mark Blitzstein ("The Cradle Will Rock")
and playwright Clifford Odets ("Awake and Sing"),
is also an homage to international musical theater history from
Side Story" to "Les Miz."
When a severe drought creates a water shortage and all home toilets
are disconnected from the town’s dwindling supply, an evil and
political mogul Caldwell B. Cladwell (played with unctuous and
delight by John Cullum) recognizes his opportunity to make a fortune.
His company initiates fees for using public facilities and imposes
fines and imprisonment for those who don’t pay.
While you may think that this is no cause for singing and dancing,
it doesn’t stop the citizenry from doing such, particularly Cladwell’s
daughter Hope (played with love-blinded innocence by Jennifer Laura
Thompson) and Bobby Strong (played with fearless bravado by Hunter
Foster), who leads the rebellion against those who would make it
privilege to pee."
To its credit, "Urinetown," as directed with smarty-pants
brilliance by John Rando, with frenzied musical staging by John
has its politicized tongue in its cheek even as it demonstrates how
the good guys, when given the chance, can make more of mess than the
bad guys. More to the point, the musical’s wickedly and funnily
agit-prop agenda is not to be taken seriously. On its own, the score,
which mocks romantic ballads, uplifting anthems, and whoopee-show
tunes, the inane plot, the bravura performances (notably Jeff McCarthy
as the droll narrator Officer Lockstock), and the whirling staging
are equal and excellent partners in this defiantly audacious "ode
Yes, the toilet, both private and public and its importance to society
frames an outrageous allegory about the freedom to pee for free and
what happens when public amenities become privatized. Three stars. You
won’t feel cheated.
— Simon Saltzman
New York. $25. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. To June
25. Opens on Broadway August 6.
be made through
800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,
and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing
arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS
half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47) is open daily,
3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for
and Saturday matinees; and 11 a.m. to closing for Sunday matinees.
The lower Manhattan booth, on the Mezzanine at 2 World Trade Center,
is open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday from 11
a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Matinee tickets are sold at this location on the
day prior to performance. Cash or travelers’ checks only; no credit
cards. Visit TKTS at: www.tdf.org
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