Saturday, 16 June 2018

"Jim Steinman's Bat Out Of Hell - The Musical", Dominion Theatre, 30/5/16

Bat Out Of Hell is resurrected at London's Dominion Theatre and rocks bigger than before! A futuristic, rock retelling of the Peter Pan fable, we enter the world of "Obsidian", an island city separated from the mainland following chemical wars, whose inhabitants form two factions - dictator Falco, his family and followers/employees and The Lost, a group of perpetual 18 year-olds - victims of the chemical warfare - led by Strat, who rebel against Falco's real estate ambitions. As Falco's daughter, Raven, turns 18 she encounters Strat and the two fall in love. Confrontations ensue as various members of the factions struggle to live and love dealing with issues of love, loss and revenge along the way.

The production is leaner than ever, although "It Just Won't Quit" is still missed and some of the edits are unnecessary - particularly Zahara's prompting Strat to return to Raven - and ideally should be reinstated. The new elements, however, only enhance the production and clarify plot elements further filling the stage with a mass of exciting details to observe: Director Jay Scheib has added many little details of business that create even more depth to the staging and supplement the characters and their development within Jim Steinman's story; the distillation of his ethos, more commercially viable than the previous versions (Neverland, The Dream Engine), retaining the elements that excite him.
Scheib continues to sculpt a mesmerising physical production that is part musical, part rock concert, part opera and it's perhaps the latter form that best describes Jim Steinman's opus. Steinman and Scheib have grafted the larger than life elements of high-brow art onto the rock concert form and melded it with the mega-musical and they have continued to hone the staging to further the story and Scheib's direction is perfectly attuned to making the best of it. Emma Portner's choreography has also been tweaked and remains an enjoyable element as part of the whole.

On a side note, the newspapers that have been part of this show since the Coliseum last year were not in evidence at this particular performance. They were created to provide the audience with a little exposition and insight into the environment before the show starts and have had several revisions since their first appearance. Frankly, as nice as they are to have as a memento they really aren't required as the exposition is treated well throughout the first act for an audience to gauge what's what.

Alternate Jordan Luke Gage brings an ethereal quality to the role of Strat, looking and acting less mature (appropriately) than Andrew Polec, and his vocals also bring a new aspect to the part. Gage's youthful appearance also adds credence to his portrayal and his confidence in the part grew exponentially as the show progressed. Gage need only work on the irreverent physical abandon that erupts from Strat at particular moments but this will come with more experience in the role.
Christina Bennington surpasses herself as Raven digging deeper into the role whilst retaining the essential elements of the part and continuing to provide a voice of diverse features.
Danielle Steers continues to arrest the viewer as Zahara and steals scenes easily with the slightest of efforts benefiting greatly from the retooled direction with her various facial asides worth the ticket price alone, never mind her million dollar voice.
Understudy Christopher Cameron as Jagwire brought a gritty, raw vocal and an earthy honesty to the role he was playing for the first time ever, having been a last-minute installation following regular actor Wayne Robinson's indisposition. A remarkable performance that grew before our eyes and I have no doubt he'll exceed himself again and again the more he undertakes the role.
Alex Thomas-Smith is visually more believable than his predecessor as the pre-pubescent Tink (thanks, in part, to a redesigned costume) but, like the other new actors, he brings a different quality and sweeter voice to the part. This new Tink, aided by subtle changes in direction, is at once more fragile and more dangerous than before though, for some reason, there is an unfortunate sense that the role has been reduced, which is untrue, but this must certainly be due to cutting "It Just Won't Quit" and the graveyard scene which aided keeping his spirit within the show.
The veteran company members continue to find new depths in the lines and lyrics they voice and their acting through song is superior and Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler as Sloane and Falco lead the pack, continuing to excel as the mature couple searching for what they've lost. The new ensemble members have integrated seamlessly and blend well as members of The Lost.
The production's superb casting enables each performer to be unique and there are no mere look/act/soundalikes here; even the understudies and alternates bring individual takes to the lead roles which further the variations on offer to the audience - so much so that many fans 'collect' performers and try to see as many different actors in a role as possible. The divine cast are surely one of the many strengths in this immense production.

Jon Bausor's design has also undergone some minor tweaks and it continues to impress as one of the boldest, metamorphic sets to ever grace a stage. That it was overlooked for an Olivier Award (in fact the show only received one nomination for Sound) is, frankly, mind-boggling. The costumes have been further refined and the video and lighting designs are still perfect for the production. Likewise the orchestra - or, perhaps, band is more appropriate for such a rock opera - persist in their brilliant execution of Steinman's monumental rock score and kudos must be heaped upon musical director Rob Emery and the orchestrators and arrangers Steve Sidwell and Michael Reed.

Whilst Bat Out Of Hell is, in many ways, the same show as that which occupied the Coliseum, it is also something else entirely, with an added dimension and depth brought about by a superlative cast and creative team.

An epic, ethereal, surreal, comic-book rock and roll fantasy faerie-tale, "Bat Out Of Hell" is every bit of wonderful. Rock and roll dreams really do come through ...

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