Equal parts Peter Pan and Mad Max, a chaotic often compelling collision of musical theatre pizazz with the rough and ready songs of the big man himself, Bat Out of Hell has returned with deafening revs to Manchester’s Opera House.
It’s been a long, long year (and a bit) since we last got the chance to see a big production show at the theatre, our most recent foray being the short-lived (but brilliant) Back to the Future Musical all the way back in March 2020 – cut short by the devastating global COVID pandemic.
So, we were back again last night at the wonderful Opera House, and settling in to watch Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell, a kind of futuristic wasteland Peter Pan homage set to the songs of “The Walrus of Rock” – Meat Loaf.
A little bit about Jim Steinman first because those who aren’t very adverse with the world of 70s and 80s rock probably don’t know who he is – and his recent death earlier this year imbues a certain tragic twinge to the show’s main theme of growing old.
Initially meeting in a manky old theatre in New York in 1973, Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman worked together for years, penning one of the best selling albums of all time together (Bat Out of Hell), as well a long list of some of the biggest hits of all time.
His legacy includes the likes of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart – an absolute banger I’m sure you’ll agree, plus Footloose and loads, loads more.
‘Bat Out of Hell’ is actually based on multiple Steinman projects, including an obscure ‘Neverland’ musical from the 1970s, plus the albums Bat Out of Hell and Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell – so you’ll know even a couple of the songs, even if you don’t think you will – for Steinman’s legacy in music has been far-reaching and seemingly permeated most levels of modern pop culture.
Sitting between my wife and a lovely lady who’s son was actually the Musical Director of the show, we were ready to go, and straight out of the traps you’re bombarded with huge hit after hit, with a bit of vague plot thrown in there for good measure.
You’ve got the leader of forever young gang ‘The Lost’, a fella named Strat, who falls in love with a lady, Raven, who is the daughter of rich and powerful ‘overlord’ Falco, played with charisma and panache by musical veteran Rob Fowler – essentially Captain Hook/Lord Montague/Jeff Bezos.
There’s also Falco’s wife, Sloane, an outstanding comedic yet tragic figure wrestled by the phenomenal Sharon Sexton, a show-stopping turn by Joelle Moses as gang member Zahara, who’s duet with James Chisholm’s Jagwire of ‘Two Out of Three Aint Bad‘ will leave you firmly blown away.
The huge set-piece just before the interval; featuring the titular song ‘Bat Out of Hell‘ in it’s entirety, complete with motorbikes, fire and a load of blood is also a highlight, a tune that Strat star Glenn Adamson handles with ease and Raven’s Martha Kirby positively shines.
It’s the musical’s ability to take Steinman and Meat Loaf’s often rather strange tunes fit in with a narrative and actually make an ounce of sense that will impress you.
Take for example the epic anthem ‘Paradise By the Dashboard Light‘, a song that confuses, compels and frustrates in equal measure throughout it’s 8 minute or so length.
There’s the initial part where the couple are on a date, then some strange baseball bit, then the repetitive “let me sleep on it” section, finally finishing off with the two characters “praying for the end of time” – it’s mad. Not that I don’t like it, it’s just a song that would never, ever be made today, or ever again.
What the musical does here though is introduce the song using Falco and Sloane, reminiscing about their past dating, and eventual marriage.
It’s clever and wildly entertaining, and gives a fantastic backstory to the characters – one which actually makes you care much more about these two lost lovers than the two main characters – although that might just be my waning years starting to catch up with me.
The second half of the musical is seemingly held together with a very thin stand of plot, punctuated with banger after banger – kind of like the movie Moonwalker, but with Meat Loaf songs. Not that this is a bad thing – by the time the cast begin expertly belting out ‘You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth‘ you’ll be up and dancing in the aisles and banging you head like the beginning of Wayne’s World.
The cast finished the production off perfectly with a heartfelt dedication and encore to the late Steinman – a touching end to a fantastic night.
Bat Out of Hell is on at the Opera House until Saturday 2nd October…