by: Peter Ferreri
Bat out of Hell, Toronto was on FIRE!
I would do anything for LOVE…. Including going to TORONTO to see BAT OUT OF HELL: The Musical. Instead of on a “hot summers night” it was on a cold New Years Day, I decided to make the trip from Chicago to Toronto to see the much talked about Meat Loaf/Jim Steinman inspired musical featuring the hit songs of Meat Loaf which were written by Jim Steinman.
As a fan of some of the classic hits of Meat Loaf, such as Bat Out of Hell, 2 out of 3 Ain’t Bad, Paradise by the Dashboard Light and Dead Ringer for Love (only to mention a few) it was with initial sadness that the musical was debuting in the UK, and was staying there without any thoughts of coming to the States. On a random Saturday I heard it was coming not to the states, rather, to the great north of Canada. Now, it may seem exponentially farther from most of the major cities in the US, but a drive from Chicago (with what the current weather conditions were) was 8-10 hours. Well worth it to see the spectacle that was getting rave reviews.
The MIRVISH Theatre was a nice antiqued site to behold of itself. The staff was MORE than accommodating for getting there a bit earlier than normal doors and there wasn’t a bad seat from what I could recall. The patrons sitting around my wife and myself were more than pleasant prior to the show and during intermission, some generous Canadian hospitality.
The song choices for the musical were mostly the well known hits of one Meat Loaf, with some other throw in from other albums but most were noticeable. In the playbill it was noted it would be an understudy for the day for the lead role of “Strat” and 2 other main characters. With that being said the performances were delivered with the passion and fire one would only expect with Steinman lyrics. I at one point expected former wrestling legend Hulk Hogan himself to walk out to his TV theme written by Steinman as an encore. At times I would wait with baited breath to see WHICH of the hits were going to be performed next, or which “deep cut” may he throw in for storytelling purposes. The stand out performance of the night was “Objects in the Rear View Mirror” as it truly embodied the ability of Steinmans music to be sung by a choir of angelic faces and voices with the pain and agony of a long lost love.
Whilst in my angsty teens while others turned heavily into Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Aerosmith and others, I turned to Meat Loaf. It wasn’t by design, nor by accident, it just happened. My mother had been a fan of his work from the original Bat out of Hell through Dead Ringer for Love (primarily caused by the female voice being Cher of that single), and her passion for his music reignited with the early 90’s smash return hit “ I Would Do Anything for Love.” Once I’d Lie for You (and that’s the truth) came out, and I purchased the single on cassette tape, and I was hooked as a fan. Long, hot summer nights, were often me driving in an 1986 Cadillac Cimarron wishing there was someone that I could sing these songs to and have it mean something instead of going to work and wondering when my braces would come off of my teeth and I could get contacts for my eyes instead of big framed glasses, before they were cool.
While driving these nights I would often imagine and visualize the scenes of the songs that were dreams of metal shining on motorcycles and the thirst of young and hopeless love. Where were people driving, who was singing, what did they look like in the cast of these teen hymns? I would sometimes think as well what if a woman sang this to a man, or what if the roles were reversed or a group sang instead of a solo. This musical depicted just that.
The set design brought to life a story of a place where once you turn 18 you become the “LOST” which is an ode to Peter Pan and the lost boys. You didn’t age past that. Never grew old. Never grew up. It was a post apocalyptic journey where Hard Rock met the Terminator and the Running Man all melted together by the music of the Meat. Your head would turn as the music and voices would bounce from wall to wall, and the actors would be high in the sky as sets were everywhere.
The choreography was unique. It would be hard for anyone to imagine how in advance of the show the dancing may look like. You wouldn’t have tap shoes or spats like musicals of the past, but firm, aggressive movements, that still allowed the actors to sing with fervor and vigor when necessary.
Some of the blocking at times seemed forced during the routines, and I wish they would have at these moments let the voices shine like the “metal” altar of which we were brought in front of to witness, instead of pre-pubescent frolicking. I feel the actors and actresses pushed through the momentary obstacles but some of it was unnecessary.
Danielle Steers for me was the highlight and blazing star that shined from her first moment on stage until the end. Amongst the thousands of shows and musicals I have seen, a constant of those that got “it” is how they act through the music with their facial expressions as a focal point. When she sang the lines “I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you,” You TRULY felt she meant it. My heart was racing in anticipation that maybe just maybe her mind would change (as if I hadn’t heard the song before). Another word I would use is “easy.” Now that is not to say her character was that of someone that was easy, far from it. Rather she made singing these notes and the personification of someone who truly was hurt by saying she couldn’t love the other was just easy. All the actors for the most part hit every note perfectly on key. But the ability to perform without foreseeable effort was exemplified in its purest form by Steers.
Simon Gordon, Sharon Sexton, Christina Bennington and Rob Fowler were beyond solid in their vocal performances, having me capturing the essence and nuances of the work that was being presented. For being an understudy, Simon delivered a lead-worthy performance with his embracing the character of Strat of young and free but gripped as though running his hand over the glowing metal on the edge of a knife. Bennington’s pure power as Raven to hit the notes is something that young actresses should watch for inspiration, and the duo of Folwer and Sexton was magic during “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” Fowler is a villain that you want to jump on stage and punch for yourself.
As for the supporting cast, Emily Benjamin truly was a stand out with her dancing performance. Her enthusiasm through every step and beat was contagious and had me smiling every time she took the stage.
All in all the performance was outstanding. I hope the run was successful enough for the powers that be to bring back to North American at some point, and even the US. They found a way to take the music of Steinman and bring the stories behind the songs to life in an epic performance. I feel it fitting that the set ended with “I would do Anything for Love” as they were finally united together in peace. If you are in the UK and have the chance to see it, see it! If it ever comes back to North America, I would run to see it once again…. Like a Bat out of Hell.
(Pictured below with Steers and Gordon)