Dominion Theatre – until 27 October 2018
Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell exploded onto the vast stage of the Dominion Theatre in a jaw-dropping, electrifying extravaganza that left everyone simultaneously drained and speechless. Loaded with state-of-the-art special effects and adrenaline, it is probably the most over-the-top, out-sized musicals that you’ll ever see.
Brash, loud and extravagant it is also one of the best-sung shows, with arguably the finest list of musical numbers ever used for a stage show.
Steinman, as any fan will tell you, is the man behind the Bat album trilogy. The original concept album, performed by Meat Loaf – no shrinking violet himself – went on to become one of the most influential and iconic albums of all time and its songs have remained classic rock staples.
Evolving the highly theatrical songs into an actual musical was a no-brainer. It finally debuted last year and the West End is still reeling. It blasted off the London Coliseum roof leaving audiences shell-shocked and gagging for more. This transfer is a natural successor to the Queen musical, We Will Rock You, which spent 12 years at the Dominion. Bat could run and run.
The Dominion’s owners spent £6 million refurbishing the vpost-Queen Queen, and now it looks in a worst state than before. Bat Out of Hell – The Musical is set in a post apocalyptic world called Obsidian where pollution and war have destroyed almost everything.
Sitting up in his luxury ivory tower is the despotic industrialist, Falco, who wants to clear away the ruins and slums for new housing which will make him vast profits, and dispossess The Lost, a group of youths living feral in the wastelands. So Jon Bausor’s astonishing and enormous set takes a wrecking ball to the auditorium. There are huge girders holding up the ceiling above the stage, a toxic pond hewn out of the rock below, an enormous sewage pipe running into a subterranean den.
And – on a mezzanine level – the his’n’hers sleeping quarters of the show’s protagonists – Falco’s pampered princess Raven, about to turn 18, and (far less salubrious) the lair of Strat, leader of The Lost.
Steinman has spent years honing this show and came up with the story to frame and showcase his music and lyrics.
It is beyond me how anyone so talented at song-writing (and these song are extraordinary – he’s the father of the power ballad. Just listen to the heartfelt lyrics) can also be responsible for such a lazy, derivative, risible book.
So while you will be blown away by the songs, music, performances, whizz-bangs, pyrotechnics, lighting and sound, you will, I’m sad to say, be sniggering at the appalling dialogue and absurd plot – that’s if you can make any sense of the plot in the first place.
Peter Pan meets Mad Max and Romeo & Juliet, it’s comic book fantasy and gives the impression that it has been written by a hormone-crazy, 15-year-old Goth, who probably spends too much time in scifi chatrooms, creating his own graphic novels or attending conventions. He sure doesn’t get out much.
The women are pneumatic, amazonian warrior types with big hair and wearing skimpy, figure-hugging bits of leather while the men are all muscles and machismo.
At its heart is a familiar story of young love.
Raven, innocent virgin, has fallen in love with Strat (though how is anyone’s guess when she is kept locked up by her over-protective parents) and she is determined to see him.
The wild-eyed Strat, filthy, unkempt and untamed, is determined to have her but must get around her obsessive father, Falco, and lush of a mother, Sloane, first.
Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington do their best with the script but, thankfully, they can fall back on blasting out Steinman’s rock anthems and leave the serious acting to the superb Rob Fowler, as Falco and Sharon Sexton as his wife.
Outstanding support comes from Giovanni Spano (a crowd-pleaser in West End musicals who deserves more leading roles) and the phenomenal Danielle Steers as Zahara.
But there are also stand-out performances from the rest of this large, impressive, cast. It helps that they get to sing rock classics like Dead Ringer For Love, I’d Do Anything for Love and the moving Objects In The Rear View Mirror.
But it is the big money number, Bat Out of Hell, closing the first Act, that will be a talking point long after you’ve left the show. Without giving anything away it is possibly the most awesome bit of staging I’ve ever seen. Absolutely wondrous.
This high octane musical deserves its five stars simply for the high quality of the musical numbers and their performance. Polec, Bennington, Fowler and Sexton are simply stupendous. Their amazingly powerful voices even manage to disturb the theatre’s own resident bats…