(seen at the afternoon performance on 22nd January 2022)
MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS THROUGHOUT.
The monkey was dreading this. Meatloaf had passed away the day before, and when it went to put the original London Cast CD on the player in tribute... it just couldn’t. Just couldn’t. Of all the timing, for a show it remembered so fondly and was anticipating through two date changes over nearly two years, it could not have been worse.
The morning of the show, it found out that the night before the cast had paid a wonderful tribute, and it was reassured - a little. As it turned out, that afternoon it saw the most heart, energy and vibrant performances Meatloaf and the late, great Jim Steinman could have wished for. The dashboard lights of heaven must have been winking furiously in delight.
So, on that note: if nothing else, this new tour proves that the musical has every chance of coming back into the West End whenever that may be possible. Its first outing at the London Coliseum was such a success that a transfer in 2018 to the Dominion Theatre looked set to challenge “We Will Rock You” for the record house run. Sadly, a string of seriously bad luck events forced a premature closure and it seemed as if all was lost. Fortunately, it turns out that “heaven can wait” for this show – there’s work unfinished here on musical theatre Earth.
The story remains the same. Strat is a member of an underground tribe of kids who can never grow up. Raven is the 18 year old daughter of Falco, the industrialist who controls the city and has frankly never grown up much either. Raven falls for Strat, and Raven’s mum joins briefly the tribe. In a nutshell – or case – as this show is. It remains breath-takingly wacky, goofy, dippy, loud, proud, raucous and audacious (and those are not new dwarf names either).
By necessity a tour requires a re-think as some things are simply impossible to do if you wish to stand any hope of making a profit and physically moving the show from place to place more than once every few months. Here, the new thoughts have mostly improved the show. Still mad crazy, but sharper and a little more focussed - in a good way.
While the hilarious “car into the orchestra pit” has been replaced with an ingenious work-around, the motorbike no longer explodes, Falco no longer dives, bats don’t fly and the rather show-slowing real rooms and ‘too-high for most of the audience to see into’ teen bedroom are gone, the biggest changes are to the book and song list.
“In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King” is cut, improving the opening of the second half. Sadly, “It Just Won’t Quit,” a lovely Raven solo has also vanished, though “bug going round” could be seen as a little tasteless these days. A smaller ensemble means a tighter, slightly faster evening, while a smaller stage with fewer characters lend a new intimacy and dimension to the action. Neither are in any way detrimental, and the monkey can now see “Bat” on the Adelphi, Savoy or Piccadilly stage – perhaps with one or two effects (and “It Just Won’t Quit”) put back in, but mostly as the event stands now.
As to the cast, they live up to and beyond expectation. Original parents Sloane (Sharon Sexton) and Falco (Rob Fowler) remain matriarch and patriarch, Ms Sexton blooming beautifully as in real life the couple await a very happy arrival (monkey best wishes to them both – the child can’t hope for better parents, it is certain). Time has honed their performances and they remain an hilarious joy to watch, making the (literally) high-life an unpredictable inferno of misery and joy.
Daughter Raven (Kellie Gnauck – alternate for absent Martha Kirby) has bratty 18 year old pretty much down, throwing herself on furniture and floor at the slightest provocation. Meeting Strat (Glenn Adamson) seems to do her good, and the pair are building a convincing relationship. Remembering how original Strat and Raven (Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington) became an item during the show’s run, anything could happen as the chemistry is there. Gnauck – in a swap from the original – rocks out the opening monologue and gives a good account of “Heaven Can Wait” while Adamson’s “Bat Out Of Hell” is as microphone swinging as it comes, a lean tattooed frame adding a wild edge.
Joelle Moses as Zahara is an outstanding “wise woman” of the lost tribe. Partnering imposing Jagwire (James Chisholm) in Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” – these two achieve a far higher score, even if his romantic intentions may never quite lift off the ground.
Other performers of mention are Rebecca Lafferty, covering the role of “Valkyrie” and giving it some lovely cameo work if one watches the side action and appreciates the short vocal. Likewise Ledoux (Danny Wheelan) is a wild-haired free-spirit holding the large Wimbledon stage when given the opportunity to sing. Tink (Killian Thomas Lefevre) – and it is Tink, not anything else, Falco – comes into his own in the second half too, making strong emotional impact in a comic, later tragic, role.
Space prevents naming the entire ensemble, but the strength of their dance, vocal support and ability to construct individual identities even when in the background must be noted.
Jon Bausor keeps the costumes and set West End bold – no cheap touring materials here. Patrick Woodroffe and Finn Ross likewise accept no compromise with lights and video, while Gareth Owen keeps the beat throbbing yet every word and note audible.
A whole new audience will get to see this show, country wide. A tribute to the memory of its creators, wild and passionate with a heart of solid chrome with burning rubber tyres. Be sure to catch it when it comes to a theatre near you.
5 stars, standing ovation.
Photo credit: Chris Davis Studio. Used by kind permission.