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Cult | News | 13 October 2004

Beeblebrox and Bat Boy

We review the Mark Wing-Davey directed musical.

Those wondering what Mark Wing-Davey has been up to between playing Zaphod Beeblebrox on TV and the current Hitchhiker's radio adaptation, should pop along to the Shaftesbury Theatre, London.

Mark is now just as famous for his work behind-the-scenes and is the director of current West End show Bat Boy the Musical. Billed as the new cult hit, we couldn't resist seeing whether it earned its tagline.

With a story line involving a boy with bat-like ears and a habit for hanging upside down, Bat Boy certainly has the stuff that cult hits are made of. Add to the mix an angry mob of villagers, a Buffy-esque heroine and a mad scientist (well, a vet) and the case is strengthened.

But in turn Bat Boy encourages comparisons to Jeckyll and Hyde, The Elephant Man, Frankenstein and The Fly. Luckily the production, with its American South setting, manages to offer a fresh, vibrant take on well-worn themes, thanks to an energetic cast and some instantly likeable songs.

A problem with Bat Boy is that it falls between two stools; it's not camp and kitsch enough to be a monster of a show like Rocky Horror, nor is it your typical musical.

Rather than Rocky, its closest neighbour is the musical episode Buffy, Once More With Feeling, with it's mixture of comedy, horror, teen romance and, of course, songs. Indeed, at times you could almost hear Sunnydale's finest singing their hearts out with lyrics laden with sarcastic and humorous one-liners.

It's a mix that makes you stick with the show, and makes up for such shortfallings as some rather lacklustre choreography and over-acting from some members of the chorus.

But it's the musical's leads that truly carry the show. Bat Boy himself, Deven May, who created the role in Los Angeles, is a real find. His Bat Boy is in turn horrifying, enchanting, pitiful and hilarious - no easy task when you're saddled with some rather nasty gnashers. Let's hope he can prove just as memorable in The Vampire Lestat, a new musical due in 2005 (that's if we can't stop Elton John ruining Ann Rice's novel).

Deven is ably supported by Rebecca Vere as Meredith Parker, the woman who educates the Bat Boy and calls him Edgar, John Barr as her husband, the duplicitous vet Dr Thomas, and Emma Williams as their daughter Shelley, who falls for Edgar's charms. Together they demand our attention, and manage to engage the audience.

While not the new Rocky Horror, Bat Boy the Musical is that rare thing a successful, feel-good, horror musical, if that's not a contradiction in terms.

Bat Boy is currently booking til February 2005 at the Shaftesbury Theatre, 210 Shafesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8DP.

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