Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through as Bat Out Of Hell!, the electrifying, award-winning hit musical featuring the greatest hits of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, hits the highway to Cardiff’s New Theatre this week. I grew up on the music of Meat Loaf, but I’ve been burned by jukebox musicals before. Bat Out of Hell!, though, is a different beast entirely: it actually began life as a futuristic rock opera in Jim Steinman’s college days, a punk spin on Peter Pan called Neverland. Steinman turned his unfinished opera into his magnum opus: Bat Out of Hell, one of the best-selling albums ever made – and now it’s back in its original form, bigger, better, and more bombastic than ever.
Set in Obsidian, a post-apocalyptic Manhattan that’s a long way from Neverland, Bat Out of Hell! follows Strat (Glenn Adamson), immortal eighteen-year-old leader of ‘The Lost’, a biker gang locked in a deadly war with the tyrannical Falco (Rob Fowler). When Strat falls in love with Raven (Martha Kirby), Falco’s rebellious daughter, the game is on and all bets are off.
Operatic in scale and anarchic in spirit, Bat Out of Hell! is an adrenaline-fuelled rollercoaster ride through some of the most iconic songs ever written, from It’s All Coming Back to Me Now to I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That). They’re also some of the hardest songs to sing – but this peerless ensemble make it seem like second nature. Not only are these the best voices I’ve heard on ANY stage, they bring every drop of emotion to songs that demand nothing short of everything: high concept Wagnerian epics that are as a high risk as they are reward. A slew of talented people have trod the boards at the New Theatre, but this might just be the most exciting cast ever to do so.
Adamson and Kirby bring charisma and complexity to roles that could have become rote in less capable hands. Their chemistry is even more scorching than the real flames that shoot across the stage during the performance of the legendary title track – which is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced in a theatre. They make the star-crossed love story into a symphony.
This is a show that is in on the joke and wants you to laugh right along with it. It’s hard to tell who’s having the most fun, but that honour might just go to Rob Fowler and Laura Johnson (standing in for Sharon Sexton) as Falco and Sloane, Obsidian’s answer to Burton and Taylor. Their version of Paradise By the Dashboard Light might be the most fun you can have with your clothes on (even if theirs weren’t!)
Meanwhile, Joelle Moses and James Chisholm bring gravitas to their powerhouse rendition of Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad, while Killian Thomas Lefevre’s Tink steals the audience’s hearts with Not Allowed to Love, one of the ballads written specifically for the show. (The other, What Part of My Body Hurts the Most, is sung by Fowler and Johnson in an affectingly tender moment for their characters).
The songs are mini epics in their own right, self-contained sagas that lend themselves perfectly to the stage – and their unique sound is captured by South Wales-born musical director Iestyn Griffiths and his superb live orchestra in. Coupled with Jay Scheib’s kinetic direction and Xena Gusthart’s inventive choreo, the music underscores the immersive fever dream of the stage (designed by Jon Bausor, also responsible for the fabulous costumes), a world half dreaded and half desired.
The spectacle of this show is second-to-none. If you’re not a fan of the songs, you will be by the time the curtain falls – and if you are one already, you’ll be in paradise (by the dashboard light). The men who brought them to us may be gone, but the beat is theirs forever – and with Bat Out of Hell!, it’s ours now too. With a little faith, trust and pixie dust, your rock and roll dreams can come true – so get yourself all revved up, because you’ve got somewhere to go – just watch out for the sudden curve!