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“Bat Boy” Returns To The Roost
Campy SpeakEasy Musical Back for Another Run

By R. J. Donovan

Who says good things don't come in small packages. Hanging upside down. By its feet.

Such is the case with SpeakEasy Stage Company's quirky, funny and sharply presented "Bat Boy: The Musical." Based on a freakish tabloid headline, "Bat Boy" is "Sweeney Todd" meets "Little Shop of Horrors."

Not unlike National Sun Globe Tattler headlines screaming "Alien Beings Communicate with Network Executives" " and "Man Eats Own Foot After Being Trapped In Refrigerator," "Bat Boy" shares an incredible story of a shady science experiment gone wrong amidst a torrid sexual tryst. A frightening, freaky mutant is the result. And when that horrific pointy-earred creature is driven from its cave, chaos looms.

A small Virginia town (population 500) is terrorized, killings abound and revelations occur. However, we all wind up wiser for the experience. I won't ruin the ending, but like "Sweeney Todd," nobody wins -- although the characters, both living and dead, return to sing the finale.

SpeakEasy originally presented the campy “Bat Boy” in its Boston premiere last fall. The response was so great that the offbeat musical horror-comedy is returning to Boston’s Center for the Arts for another four week run starting January 3. If you were shut out last time around, get your tickets now.

Director Paul Daigneault has captured the tongue-in-cheek, comic book style with finesse and smoothly smears it over the story of the bizarre half man, half beast cave dweller who lives on blood but overcomes his shadowy beginnings to evolve into a dapper, well-read man about town. (The actual metamorphosis is detailed in "Show You A Thing or Two," which takes Bat Boy from SNL's "Mr. Peppers" to a song-and-dance-like David Niven in one musical swoop.

The "Bat Boy" company includes some favorite faces along with a new young talent we can only hope to see again. At the center of the story is Miguel Cervantes as Bat Boy. A graduate of Emerson (and very reminiscent of John Leguizamo), he's bright and funny whether initially screeching in his lair or logically debating his need to meet new people like he's the flavor of the week on "Larry King Live."

SpeakEasy regular Kerry Dowling is Meredith Parker, the mother figure who nurtures "Bat Boy." She does a fine job in her best Donna Reed-on-the-edge style. Sara Chase, as Dowling's daughter Shelley, forms what becomes an unhealthy preoccupation with Bat Boy. And Michael Mendiola, who was wonderful last season in SpeakEasy's "Floyd Collins," is great as Dowling's husband, the local veterinarian. (Costume designer Jenna Rossi has added an inventive character touch for Mendiola with a vest covered in sketches of furry creatures.)

The rest of the cast plays multiple roles, sometimes switching characters mid-scene. Austin Lesch, in particular, does a champion job with this. One minute he's being murdered and the next he reappears as a new face standing over the very murder victim he was playing only moments ago.

Music and lyrics are by Laurence O’Keefe and range from ballads and gospel to pop and rock, including the touching "Let Me Walk Among You,” “Mrs. Taylor’s Lullaby” and “Three Bedroom House” to a rousing “Joyful Noise” and “Children, Children.” (You’ve also got to love a show that contains a song called “Apology To A Cow.”) And musical theater aficionados will relish how the production parodies everything from “My Fair Lady” to “The Lion King.”

The book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming is very clever, always pushing the story, but never taking itself too seriously. The comedy is deadpan all the way.

Once again, SpeakEasy's Artistic Director Paul Daigneault is to be given a lot of credit, not only for presenting a highly entertaining night in the theater, but for furthering his company's mission to bring new material to town. (It's only a matter of time until the showdown to present "Urinetown" flares between SpeakEasy and Lyric Stage.)

Fact or fiction, “Bat Boy” is great fun. And it certainly takes a bite out of the competition ( . . . sorry!).

“Bat Boy: The Musical” is at Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street in Boston, through January 25. For information, call 617-426-ARTS.

-- OnStage Boston


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