Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Bat Boy: The Musical
While it's great to see a musical that is rarely produced, and Neon Cactus Playhouse deserves kudos for their decision to present a show that most likely few people have heard of, the unconventional nature of Bat Boy, which blends horror, drama, comedy, and satire into a campy mishmash of genres, unfortunately fails to coalesce into a cohesive narrative. You can't blame Neon Cactus for the deficiencies in the musical, and their cast literally throw themselves into their roles, but there are some shortcomings in the singing abilities of some of the cast and there were also some issues with the technical aspects of this production on opening night with the sound and lighting that will hopefully be remedied over the course of the show's run.
Inspired by a 1992 tabloid story in the Weekly World News about a half-boy, half-bat creature, Bat Boy: The Musical is both extremely absurd and also oddly intriguing. The unusual plot revolves around a creature discovered in a cave, aptly named Bat Boy (Bear Golden), who is taken in by a human family (Kelly Swope, Matt Snell, and Emma Jarvis) who attempt to domesticate him.
The musical features a score with music by Laurence O'Keefe and lyrics by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming that is a myriad of styles ranging from rock to gospel and traditional musical theatre ballads. The eclectic nature of the score has its pros and cons, as some songs, such as the sweet "A Home for You" and the rousing "Comfort and Joy," showcase O'Keefe's composition abilities and Farley and Flemming's witty lyrics, while others lack a unifying musical motif with lyrics that are trite and at times heavy handed. Also, the book by Farley and Flemming confronts issues of acceptance, prejudice, and the search for identity, but it's also over-stuffed with several unnecessary moments or scenes that run long and the character development is fairly minimal.
Some of the Neon Cactus cast fare better than others, especially in the vocal requirements of the score, but they all look like they are having a blast playing these campy characters. Bear Golden does a fine job navigating the physicality and emotional requirements of Bat Boy while showing the vulnerability and excitement of the character, and Kelly Swope is endearing as the mother who takes Bat Boy in. There are several songs with catchy tunes that you'll probably find yourself humming for days afterwards and several members of the cast have good singing voices that they get to show off in short solo songs, including ensemble members Kevin Fenderson and Sydney Meyers.
George Canady's direction plays up the eccentric nature of the characters and the absurdity of the plot. His staging makes good use of the thrust stage area which has seating on three sides. However, there are several times when the ensemble, who is downstage, block the main characters who are upstage, and several moments when the jokes don't land due to being rushed or lacking comic timing. Jay Melberg's music direction achieves a wonderful sound from the small onstage band.
For those who relish the unconventional, or who are intrigued to see a show they've never seen or one filled with broad characters and horror elements, Bat Boy will most likely offer a fun, campy theatrical experience. However, the score and book have some narrative ambiguities and it's overly long, which, along with the quibbles I mentioned above, may prove challenging for those seeking a more conventional and straightforward musical theatre journey.
Bat Boy: the Musical, a Neon Cactus Playhouse production, runs through November 18, 2023, at Scottsdale Neighborhood Arts Place, 4425 N Granite Reef Road, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit neoncactusphx.com
Director: George Canady
Bat Boy: Bear Golden