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Sunday, 26 February 2012 14:47

'Bat Boy' sighting: February 2012, Xavier Hall, SLU. A large crowd witnesses the bat child's antics.

Written by Lilith Daly
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The Details

A creature was found living in a cave "many miles to the South" near the West Virginian coal-mining town of Hope Falls.

Discovered by 3 spelunking teens, the creature appeared to be feral, and bit one of the teens, Ruthie Taylor (Kelly Barabasz). Brothers Rick and Ron (Peter Hasser and Martin Moran, respectively) capture the 'bat boy' and then release it to to Hope Falls' Sheriff Reynolds (Carl Schneider), who in turn brings the creature to the home of the local veterinarian.

These events, and the ensuing story, were reenacted dramatically by students at Saint Louis University. Students were directed by local theatre artist, Jason Cannon. No actors or actual animals were harmed during this retelling on Friday evening, February the 24th.

The Bat Boy(Robbie Distasio) has been taken in by the Parker family. Meredith Parker (Kristen McGuire), the sentimental but practical matriarch of the household, wishes to take the Bat Boy in, name him Edgar, and nurse him back to health, against the initial repugnance of her daughter Shelly (Natalie Sannes). Dr. Thomas Parker (Gregory Cuellar), a bit of a drunk and town outcast, has other notions as to what the creature really needs. The story thus unfolds.

A large cast performs this dramatization, "Bat Boy: The Musical." The musical was written in 1997 by Keythe Farly and Brian Flemming, based on the "Weekly World News" articles that chronicled various Bat Boy sightings in the early 1990s. It was then scored for a five-piece band by Laurence O'Keefe.

The band performs onstage on an elevated platform reminiscent of the skeletal iron supports of a coal-shaft for this performance. The rest of the stage was bare, with room to set up folding chairs in some scenes, or to roll out a structure representing the Parkers' home. A large cage was also brought into play, holding the Bat Boy during his less civilized moments.

As I watched the performance, I worried about several things: Would the band overpower the singers voices? (occasionally) Would such a large cast trip over itself as the players moved about the stage? (rarely) Would Edgar's bald cap stay on? (barely)

Each performer was fitted with a slender, nearly invisible microphone, and most of the time, it worked. McGuire and Sannes harmonize well together, and they each had their strong vocal moments (particularly Sannes in 'Inside Your Heart')The more rollicking group numbers, such as 'Another Dead Cow' and 'A Joyful Noise' were well heard, whereas some of the solo performances were muted, either due to mic placement or personal singing volume and enunciation. At times, the main characters – Edgar and the Parkers – seemed a bit timid in their vocal expression. Cuellar was the exception, for the most part, belting out some of Dr. Parker's more sinister musical moments. I wanted to hear Distasio really go for the gusto, but he held back emotionally, making the Bat Boy seem stiff and distant (although if I just came out of a cave and learned to walk and talk, I might be a bit stiff as well!). I would have liked to hear more desperation during the plaintive 'Let Me Walk Among You,' a plea for acceptance.

Choreography of the large cast was handled well by director Cannon. In some moments, all 17 cast members were on stage, and they needed to be wrangled. The rabble-rousing was amusing, though a bit overused. What was best about the large cast was the amazing amount of energy they brought to the stage when everyone was in their place. It was chaotic at moments, electric at others, but certainly a frenetic wave that you could feel, grab on, and ride.

I wanted to be totally into the energy of the show, but I must be honest: there were times that I was distracted. I fell out of the buzz when any of the actors seemed to forget they were acting, and I could see their hesitation, and then they popped right back into character. More of a buzzkill was Distasio's bald cap. It simply wasn't properly applied, and the area at the back of the neck flapped about with even the slightest motion. While I wouldn't insist that an actor shave his head for the role, I would hope for a more careful application of the cap for future productions. As it was, it drove me, erm...batty.

Curiously missing from the show was a scene from the original production that took place in the woods of Hope Falls. Edgar and Shelly profess their love for one another, while the Greek god Pan and the forest animals encourage the pair and look on. Was the scene cut due to time constraints? Taste level?

With these minor exceptions, I can't deny that the show was loads of fun. Its schlocky, horror/comedy vibe brought plenty of laughs. The Bat Boy's origin story was a raunchy pleasure. The stuffed animal props that were Edgar's food drew an eye roll or two, then even more chuckles as the prop bled out.

Even the curtain call brought laughs and cheers as the cast drew together to form a large bat and "flew"upon the stage.

If you enjoy standard musicals, this may not be the show for you. However, if you like your musicals a bit less traditional, and sometimes outright weird, "Bat Boy: The Musical"is a fun romp through the morals of an insular, small town.

"Bat Boy: The Musical" continues March the 2nd and 3rd at 8 p.m.,and March 4th at 2 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 314-977-3327 or visit slu.edu/theatre.

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