‘Bat Boy the Musical’Feature Story, Latest Issue, Section 4A Thursday, October 12th, 2017
A wild, brash, bloody and funny musical with an apposite message
Naked bat child found in abandoned cave!
This is the kind of headline that appeared regularly in the publication Weekly World News. They filled their pages with stories of supernatural news, sightings of Elvis Presley and the Loch Ness Monster. The naked bat child dubbed Bat Boy hit the papers in 1992 and quickly became a regular column for the paper.
Writers Keythe Farley and Brian Fleming got the idea to write a stage adaptation and composer/lyricist Laurence O’Keefe joined them. Their first production of Bat Boy: The Musical premiered on Halloween 1997 and went to open Off Broadway in March 2001. The show received favorable reviews and it looked like it was headed for a long healthy run, but it became one of the economic casualties of 9/11. Audiences started dwindling and the show closed in December of that year.
Since then it has been done on London’s West End and in many regional theaters across the country.
The latest theater to take on the big-eared, fang-toothed, bald, half boy, half bat who sings and dances is The OB Playhouse run by Jennie Gray Connard and her husband, Bill. Michael Mizerany was brought in to direct.
“Actually, Bat Boy was chosen by Michael,” Grey Connard said. “We had asked Michael to direct/choreograph The Full Monty for us last year but it fell through when we couldn’t get enough men to, well… commit to The Full Monty on stage. I told him then that I wanted to work with him at the same time the following year. I asked him what show he thought he might want to do and he gave me a couple of different options that were on his ‘bucket list’. Bat Boy seemed like a perfect idea given the time frame (around Halloween) and it seemed perfect for OB Playhouse. We’ve been lauded for doing things that are a little edgier and this one spoke to us.”
Mizerany was one of the lucky ones who caught the show in its infancy back in 1997 and he was instantly bitten.
“I saw the original production at The Actor’s Gang Theatre in 1997 in Los Angeles and immediately fell in love with it,” Mizerany said. “I am a huge fan of ’50s horror movies, especially films like The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Creature Walks Among Us as well as gothic horror films and TV shows. I was hooked on reruns of Dark Shadows, a soap opera about vampire Barnabas Collins and his dysfunctional, undead family.
One of the great things about Bat Boy and one of the things that make the show hilarious is how the script is written to be cast gender neutral. It’s one of the high points of the show.
“Except for the four main principals all other characters are gender neutral,” Mizerany explained. “Though the script gives you permission to opt out of that particular device, I decided it to keep it. Not only does Bat Boy contain elements of gothic horror as well as a beautiful love story, but it also parodies the tropes and conventions of musical theater. Bat Boy laughs at big cast musicals like Phantom of the Opera and Les Misérables that use double and triple casting, but with the expectation that we, the audience, shouldn’t acknowledge it. With Bat Boy, it is blatantly obvious that the actors are switching characters and genders via wigs/hats. Most of the character/gender switches are done within lines of each other and others happen on stage, in full view of the audience. It’s crazy. It’s insane. But it is also incredibly funny.”
One thing that makes this a tough show to do is the use of blood and having the actor playing Bat Boy look like a half bat half man.
“One big challenge was the use of blood,” Mizerany shared. “I wanted to use fake blood. At one point, Cody Ingram (Bat Boy) drinks blood, so how does the actor do that safely? After much consulting and testing, we found some consumable blood that is safe for the actor and washes out of costumes and off the stage. Another challenge was Bat Boy’s teeth (fangs). We went through many options. First, we tried gluing individual fangs to his teeth. They wouldn’t stay attached and became a choking hazard. Next we tried to attach fangs with a bridge that attached to the front part of Cody’s gums, but he couldn’t speak or sing clearly. Then, our amazing make-up designer, Pam Stompoly-Ericson, came up with a solution. She suggested using Ben Nye Tooth Black Out Paint. Cody blacks out certain portions of his teeth to achieve the look of jagged teeth and fangs. It’s been working great.”
Ingram hadn’t even heard of the show when Mizerany asked him to play the title role.
“We were working on Altar Boyz together at Coronado Playhouse when Michael told me about it,” Ingram remembered. “I remember seeing the tabloid magazines when I was a kid at the grocery store. Before my audition I listened to the recording of the show and fell in love with the rawness of the music.”
For those out there who like a little nudity with their musical theater Bat Boy is the show for you. Ingram explains that while there is nudity in this show he’s no stranger to it.
“In the beginning of the show where they find Bat Boy in the cave it is written in the script that he is spotted by flashlights and he is naked,” Ingram said. “It was Michael’s decision to have me in a thong dance belt since I am seen center stage with my back to the audience for the opening scene, so my butt is very visible to the audience. My last show was playing Ethan in The Full Monty at San Diego State University and if you know the show you know that at the end we are naked on stage. I have always been very confortable with my body and nudity never bothered me. I am usually naked or shirtless or something of that sort when I am home. The chance to be naked on stage was very liberating and an amazing experience.”
It’s clear to both Ingram and Mizerany that there is more to the show than just blood, teeth and butts. There’s a message as well.
“On the surface, Bat Boy may appear to be just a wild, brash, bloody and extremely funny musical based on a 1992 tabloid article,” Mizerany said. “But at its heart, it is commentary on prejudice and bigotry. Bat Boy, a young man, is ostracized and shunned by the people of Hope Falls, W. Va. And all of it, all of it, is based on how he looks.”
Ingram’s take is very similar to Mizerany’s. Seems there is a lot more to the show than meets the eye.
“One of the best messages of this show is that no matter where people come from or their background, everyone has something to offer to society,” Ingram added. “Especially in these times of political turmoil and racial tension we need to remember that.”
Bat Boy is playing at The OB Playhouse located at 4944 Newport Ave. D, San Diego, 92107 and runs Thursdays through Sundays and closes Oct. 29. For tickets visit obtheatrecompany.com or call 619-795-9305.
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