Hold Me, Bat Boy
Bat Boy at the Ana Chavira Theatre
By Steven Robert Allen
No, he can't see through walls. He can't leap tall buildings in a single bound. He doesn't even wear a cape or brightly colored leotards. The famous Bat Boy is more super freak than super hero.
Perhaps you've read about him while waiting in the checkout line at your local supermarket. Back in 1992, the Weekly World News, that bastion of hard investigative reporting, first broke the story about a mysterious 19-pound creature, half bat, half boy, discovered by scientists in a cave in rural West Virginia. Over subsequent years, the crack journalists at the News reported that Bat Boy escaped from a secret federal laboratory, was tracked down by the FBI, fell in love and eventually endorsed Al Gore for president in 2000.
In a society that craves unconventional true-life stories, it's not hard to understand why Bat Boy became a kind of fanged, pointy-eared, pop cultural icon. It was really only a matter of time before someone—in this case Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming (story and book) and Laurence O'Keefe (music and lyrics)—came up with the bright idea to transform Bat Boy's extraordinary adventures into an Off Broadway musical. Now Albuquerque audiences have a chance to witness this amazing theatrical adventure in a Musical Theatre Southwest production currently running at the new Ana Chavira Theatre (4804 Central SE, right next to the Hiland Theatre).
As is so often the case in the entertainment world, Bat Boy: The Musical takes the documented facts of Bat Boy's troubled existence and fictionalizes them for dramatic effect. Real life, as I'm sure you already know, usually doesn't have the necessary plot thrust to translate literally into a theatrical format. Certainly, there are lessons to be learned by examining the biography of the real Bat Boy, but I, for one, am glad the writers took some liberties with his story. The result, I'm happy to report, is a theatrical and musical success of breathtaking depth and beauty.
In the musical, a trio of pot-smoking hillbilly kids discover Bat Boy (James Mills) in his cave. After biting one of them in the neck, Bat Boy is captured and brought to the home of the local veterinarian, Dr. Thomas Parker (David S. Miller). Although Dr. Parker initially believes Bat Boy should be exterminated, his wife, Meredith (Erin Moody), feels sorry for the sniveling, cowering creature.
So she vows to civilize him. Meredith names him Edgar and, with the help of a few Brillo pads and some BBC language tapes, within a few weeks Edgar has become a polished, well-dressed, highly articulate young man with a very bright future before him.
Unfortunately, everyone else in the tiny town of Hope Falls, West Virginia (pop. 569), loathes this little blood-sucking freak. Many believe he's a satanic abomination who's responsible for the poor health of their cattle. Soon they're vowing to hunt him down and put him to sleep like a rabid dog.
The songs are great, the jokes are hilarious and Mills does an especially wonderful job in the title role, singing his songs with an earnest conviction that only adds to the comedic impact of the show. Stephanie Burch, as the Parkers' over-sexed daughter, Shelley, probably has the most powerful voice in the cast, and she brings a lot of giggly exuberance to her role. Other talented jokesters include Sean Hankinson as the neighborhood bully and John Burns as the Reverend Billy Hightower. Some of the singing is a bit uneven, but all of these performers revel in the musical's kitsch to such a bombastic degree that it doesn't matter.
The musical's lesson about the necessity of being tolerant toward those who are different might be an all too familiar one, but it's a timeless moral that can't be repeated often enough. In a world poisoned with bigotry and xenophobia, it's worth remembering that there's a little bit of Bat Boy in all of us.
Bat Boy—a musical by Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming (story and book) and Laurence O'Keefe (music and lyrics), directed by Robb Anthony Sisneros—runs through May 23 at the Ana Chavira Theatre. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m. 262-9301.
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