Book, Music and Lyrics: Jim Steinman
Director: Jay Scheib
Reviewer: Glen Pearce
While jukebox musicals continue to pop up at regular intervals, Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell, though best known for Meat Loaf’s iconic albums, was originally written as a musical. While it may have taken 40 years to reach the stage, and after a preview run at Manchester’s Opera House earlier this year, the wait has been worth it.
The narrative has always been strong in Steinman’s work and the London Coliseum, usual home for English National Opera, seems an appropriate venue for his almost operatic opus, albeit with a heavy rock score unlike anything usually heard in the venue.
There are echoes of that other rock musical, We Will Rock You, in Obsidian, a post-apocalyptic Manhattan and its oppressed underworld. Here though, the storyline takes a much darker edge with The Lost, a group of young people frozen aged 18 battling the overground dictator reminiscent of Peter Pan. When Strat, the leader of the group falls in love with Raven, daughter of the oppressive dictator then the plot verges towards Romeo & Juliet but it weaves in both influences with ingenuity and inventiveness.
Steinman’s skill as a songwriter is the power ballad and there’s plenty to thrill here, from the title track to Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad to Dead Ringer For Love. There is though, a surprising number of more softer toned moments including a plaintive telling of Objects In The Rearview Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are.
Jay Scheib’s direction utilises every inch of Jon Bausor’s cavernous set that makes ample use of the Coliseum’s vast stage, populating it with a finely honed company that never put a foot out of place.
Andrew Polec’s Strat carries the weight of the show on his shoulders but, in his UK debut, Polec proves to be a star in the making. Combining a childlike innocence with a rebellious resemblance to Iggy Pop, Polec is utterly mesmerising.It’s a highly charged physical performance but what really impresses is Polec’s vocals. Hitting all those big notes that have made Meat Loaf famous and infusing each with full on emotional attack, one wonders how Polec manages to sing through a three-hour show once, let alone several times a week.
Christina Bennington’s Raven is more than a match for Polec’s Strat, however, providing a female voice for what previously have been male renditions. The pair has real chemistry that shines out across the vast stage.
There’s fine performances throughout the company, Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton as Raven’s parents joining Polec and Bennington in a moving reimagining of All Coming Back To Me Now, and Danielle Steers and Dom Hartley-Harris’ soaring Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad especially memorable.
What though does shine through this production is the quality of each aspect, staging surprises keep flowing, each member of the company attacking the piece with total conviction and a score played to perfection under the musical direction of Robert Emery. By the time the show revs up to the inevitable final number, I’d Do Anything For Love, there’s a palpable sense of release throughout the theatre.
There may be those that deride the idea of ENO hosting Bat Out Of Hell, but this shot of pure joy, produced with such energy, electricity and enthusiasm is exactly what the West End needs. A production that redefines standards of the rock musical and in its breadth and ambition, a score that Wagner himself would have been proud of.
A full-throttled and genre defining production.
Runs until 22 August 2017 | Image: Specular