WHAT "Bat Out of Hell"
WHERE NY City Center, 131 W. 55th St.
INFO Tickets, from $45, 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org
BOTTOM LINE The Meat Loaf album comes to frenetic life in Jim Steinman's puzzling musical.
It’s hard to get too serious about a musical when early on the leading lady speaks — in all seriousness — the famed Three Stooges/Abbott and Costello line, "Slowly I turned, step by step."
And that’s not the only puzzling moment in "Bat Out of Hell," the frenetic, flashy rock Jim Steinman musical with a back story more interesting than the finished product running through Sept. 8 at City Center. It's taken the Hewlett-raised songwriter more than 40 years to get this piece on a stage, having worked on it while still at Amherst College. But he was stymied at every turn, eventually shifting his attention to producing the famed Meat Loaf album, which with two follow-ups sold more than 100 million copies.
Still Steinman never totally gave up on a musical, calling it "Neverland" at one point because of obvious links to the "Peter Pan" saga. But the J.M. Barrie estate wasn’t too keen on granting rights, so he toned that down, finally settling on the current show that played England before what was supposed to be an extended North American tour. More roadblocks: The tour was scuttled after Toronto, for reasons not entirely clear, instead coming straight to New York.
The loose storyline follows a bunch of rebellious kids known as The Lost, led by the Pan-like Strat (a wildly over-the-top Andrew Polec) who live in tunnels under the dystopian city Obsidian (you know it as Manhattan). A mutation has frozen their age at 18, so they’ll never grow up (beginning to see the Peter Pan parallels?). Obsidian is ruled by the tyrannical Falco (Bradley Dean) who, wouldn’t you know, has a daughter, Raven (Christina Bennington), with eyes only for Strat.
Directed by Jay Scheib, the story is as ridiculous as it sounds, but like most jukebox musicals it lives through the music. Along with the title song that closes the first act in a blaze of glittery confetti symbolizing a fatal motorcycle crash (talk about puzzling moments), other musical highlights include "Paradise by the Dashboard Light," sung by Falco and his wife, Sloane (Lena Hall, killing it); the haunting "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" (once a hit for Celine Dion), and the most recognizable number, "I'd Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)."
It all hits you in a blaze of heavy amplification and blinding light (I left with quite the headache). But I also came away with an appreciation of music not previously on my radar. Who knew a song called "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Be Closer Than They Are" could be quite so lovely?