Rachel Weinberg has been a freelance theater critic around Chicago for more than three years. She is currently pursuing a Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Prior to that, Rachel worked for two years in digital marketing at Goodman Theatre and spent a season as a Marketing Apprentice for Roundabout Theatre Company in New York City. You can read all of Rachel’s reviews at RachelWeinbergReviews.com and find her on Twitter @RachelRWeinberg.
(front, l to r) Matt Miles and Henry McGinniss with the cast of Griffin Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL, book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe, directed by Scott Weinstein with music direction by Charlotte Rivard-Hoster. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Review: BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL at Griffin Theatre
By Rachel Weinberg
Delightfully quirky and darkly comic, BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL makes its Chicago premiere in this Griffin Theatre production with direction by Scott Weinstein. The Den Theatre proves an ideal venue for this strange and wonderful musical with music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming. And Griffin Theatre’s ensemble delivers with vocal expertise and keen acting, milking the show’s material for maximum comedic value and audience delight.
Set in the small town of Hope Falls, West Virginia, BAT BOY begins in a murky cave (Brandon Wardell’s lighting design provides a sense of eeriness throughout) where three siblings discover the titular Bat Boy lurking. Bat Boy resembles a human but has pointy ears, fangs—and a thirst for blood. After he bites one of the siblings, they succeed in capturing Bat Boy and deliver him to the home of the town’s veterinarian, Dr. Parker. Once there, Parker’s wife and daughter Meredith and Shelley decide to raise Bat Boy—whom they christen Edgar— to be a “normal” human boy and a part of their family. But Dr. Parker and the rest of Hope Falls’s residents aren’t so quick to accept what they deem to be an abomination.
BAT BOY’s plot construction lends itself to a wonderful examination of that classic musical theater theme: the role of the outsider. Though the religious residents of Hope Falls pride themselves on their “Christian Charity,” (an inspired and impossibly clever number) they aren’t at all keen to accept Bat Boy into their community—even after Meredith and Shelley teach him to behave according to societal norms. And though Dr. Parker as a veterinarian is meant to be kind to all creatures, he proves equally cold. The consequences for these prejudiced behaviors, of course, reveal themselves in time.
And Henry McGinniss’s likable and sweet take on Bat Boy makes us feel for his plight even more. McGinniss has a genius take on the role. He’s positively feral at the top of the show and possesses an incredible inhuman physicality. It’s remarkable to watch his transformation in “Show You A Thing Or Two,” in which Meredith (Anne Sheridan Smith) and Shelley (Tiffany Tatreau) teach Bat Boy the ways of humanity. By song’s end, McGinniss changes completely, into a well-mannered boy with a crisp and consistent British accent (a result of all the BBC he watches, according to Meredith). McGinniss also handles the vocal demands of the role nicely. As Meredith, Smith is lovely and convincingly maternal. We feel so strongly that she’s one of the few residents in town willing to accept Bat Boy (though that may be because she doesn’t initially realize he feeds on blood). As Shelley, Tatreau is every inch the petulant teenager. She also puts a lot of heart into the role—not to mention vocal prowess. There’s not a weak link among the ensemble, and they handle the show’s double (and even sometimes triple casting) with ease and some sly winks.
Though BAT BOY has some extremely dark currents, it’s easy to see that the company members are enjoying themselves performing this show. The design elements add to this simultaneously creepy and comedic atmosphere. Lolly Extract and Amber Marsh do some excellent puppetry work here. Mealah Heidenreich’s use of props is particularly inspired and playful, especially in a scene where Bat Boy and Shelley escape the chaos of Hope Falls in the forest.
Fans of musicals like LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS and HEATHERS: THE MUSICAL (which also has music and lyrics by O’Keefe) will find much to enjoy in BAT BOY’s wry intersection between comedy and darkness. BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL makes for an altogether unique and exciting theatrical experience, and Griffin Theatre’s production wholeheartedly embraces this weird musical with a sublime result.