REVIEW: BAT OUT OF HELL [preview] 18th February 2017 – Opera House Manchester UK

 

I am not a member of the press so I’m not subjected to embargo, nor am I academic though I went to uni – I’ve been a fan of Bat Out of Hell since around 2002 – we were in the car and they played the full version of the title track, thus prompting my mum to get the album out and play it – the songs, particularly Paradise, I had heard nothing like before. I saw Meat Loaf at Hyde Park that Summer, then a year later on the Couldn’t Have Said It Better tour.

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Now I am something of enigma. I wouldn’t call myself a rock fan – I don’t have loads of bands; Linkin Park, Metallica, Kiss etc on my tablet; I’m more into musical theatre. I think that’s what drew me to Meat Loaf and of course Steinman, the bombastic theatricality of the music. There’s no coincidence however, for 50 years this was all written for musical theatre. The whole damn lot.

 

If you listen to Steinman’s other work – Bonnie Tyler, Pandora’s Box, Air Supply etc. listen to the lyrics and instrumental there are recurring themes and phrases. This is completely deliberate, but as a Steinfan I love the continuity. Steinman’s work; which includes No 1 songs such as Total Eclipse of the Heart, I’d Do Anything For Love, Dead Ringer For Love, Holding Out For A Hero and many more, as well as musicals such as the European hit ‘Tanz der Vampire’ (based on Roman Polanski’s 1967 film ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’) and lyrics for ‘Whistle Down The Wind’, composed by the little-known Andrew Lloyd-Webber, you may have heard of him (In fact an ironic Lloyd-Webber/Steinman connection may be to come if the West End production moves onto one of his theatres!) Even in these collaborative projects the phrases and references trickle through – I love the continuity though, it makes Steinman’s work all a part of a massive musical tapestry.

 

Steinman’s first ever musical was 1969’s ‘The Dream Engine’. Produced at college, there were elements inspired by JM Barrie’s Peter Pan. Over the next decade Steinman would write and produce more musicals – ‘Rhinegold’ and ‘More Than You Deserve’ – on the latter project he first met Meat Loaf. Steinman however continued his desire to produce a rock n roll fantasy Pan, writing songs, some of which would appear on Meat Loaf’s 1977 album Bat Out of Hell, which would prove a great success worldwide. That same year, the Pan-based musical was workshopped in a vastly modified form, as ‘Neverland’.

 

Steinman never stopped working towards his dream show as his fame and success soared, drafting screenplays, stage plays and writing new songs which in the meanwhile would be released as chart hits. Some of these songs would appear on Bat Out of Hell II: Back Into Hell, a triumphant reunion with Meat Loaf.

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Bat Out of Hell was rumoured to open around 2009, I vividly remember reading Steinman’s blog [in 2005!] with teases of meetings with potential creative staff and scenes and songs which could be used. The teases were so tantalising. So I was waiting 12 years! But great things come to those who wait. Part of the issue was apparently finding someone to fund Steinman’s massive vision. But the world finally caught up.

 

Tickets went on sale July 2016 so I had to rally up my friends and see who wanted to go. Four of us ended up getting tickets for the second ever preview performance in Manchester, Saturday 18th February 2017. Then there was an agonising 8 month wait.

 

I’ve wanted this show forever. I even tried to write a Meat Loaf musical as a kid. I’d predicted it would become my favourite ever musical. Obviously that was a gamble, what if it was a flop? What if producers had fiddled too much with Steinman’s vision? Steinman’s work was like my musical bible (I mean that in a very Dot Cotton way), and I wanted it putting into the context of a story. I’d been waiting so long despite the excitement I was for a bit apprehensive as one could expect. What if it hadn’t lived up to expectations? Potential SPOILERS from hear onwards:

 

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The night finally came. We travelled up to Manchester, filed into the theatre then it was time. The first thing you notice is the incredible set. Massive, on more than one floor. Apparantly the biggest theatre set in the world.

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Synopsis: “Join the eternally young Strat and his wild gang, The Lost, as they roam the streets of Obsidian, a post-apocalyptic Manhattan, ruled by the wicked and tyrannical Falco. When Strat first sets eyes on Falco’s daughter, Raven, who has been locked away in the palace towers, he sets out to rescue her from her evil father’s clutches in a full throttle tale of teenage love, youthful rebellion and living the rock and roll dream.”

 

The Peter Pan influences are still very visible but a lot less obvious. The show is full of surprises. I know the songs, I know the vision, but still there were surprises. I was expecting this – Steinman is a genius! Here is the running order, with comments:

 

ACT ONE
1. No Overture – Begins with Love & Death & An American Guitar – Strat
2. All Revved Up With No Place To Go/Wasted Youth – Strat and the Lost

All Revved Up with new lyrics ad an extract from ‘Everything Louder Than Everything Else’, demoed here:

3. Who Needs The Young? – Falco & Sloane

4. Out of the Frying Pan (And Into The Fire)(Extract)/It Just Won’t Quit – Strat n co

So many of us were disappointed the full Frying Pan wasn’t in there!
5. Good Girls Go To Heaven (Bad Girls Go Everywhere) – Sloane, Zahara & Raven

6. Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad – Zahara & Jagwire

I always said this should be a duet!!
7. Paradise By The Dashboard Light – Falco & Sloane

My friend and I jumped forward in our seats and grinned when this started!! Very funny
8. Making Love Out of Nothing At All – Strat & Raven

A wildcard, wasn’t expecting this but happy to see it in there.
9. Bat Out of Hell – Strat & Raven

ACT TWO
10. In The Land of the Pig, The Butcher Is King – Falco
11. Heaven Can Wait – Raven

With amazing flying effects
12. Objects In The Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are – Jagwire, Ledoux & Blake
13. For Crying Out Loud – Strat & Raven

14. You Took The Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night) – The Lost

15. I’m Not Allowed To Love – Tink [solo]
16. What Part Of My Body Hurts The Most – Falco & Sloane

Both of the above are ‘officially’ new songs but demos and performances have appeared online. Ironically the duet is now a solo and the solo is a duet. Rumour has it Meat Loaf might record  What Part of My Body for the cast album – Not Allowed To Love was originally written for the Batman musical! (Yes THAT Batman, a duet between himself and Catwoman. The director would have been Tim Burton however WB scrapped the project. I’d love to read a draft of the script!)

17. Dead Ringer For Love – Jagwire & Zahara
18. Rock n Roll Dreams Come Through – Strat
19. It’s All Coming Back To Me Now – Strat & Raven and Falco & Sloane
20. I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) – Ensemble
21. CURTAIN CALL Bat Out of Hell (Reprise)

 

Overall this show has everything. A phenomenal young cast, led brilliantly by Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington. Some songs have new arrangements, being obvious as this is a performance by an ensemble of musical theatre actors. The script is great, a fine story with a great balance of humour and drama. It was so much more than I was expecting. The choreography was really good too, there was one song which visually emulated Steinman’s 1981 solo music video ‘Bad For Good’, a poster of the cover hung in Raven’s bedroom. Also other easter eggs included Strat wearing a tanktop with Steinman 69 on it!

 

Also you may rememebr some of Steinman’s monologue pieces from the albums – there are at least four in there (Love & Death & An American Guitar from ‘Bad For Good’, I’ve Been Dreaming Up A Storm Lately & The Invocation from Pandora’s Box: Original Sin).

 

The characters all had their own personalities and stories, Zahara in particular was interesting – working for the villainous Falco while being a member of The Lost. I say villainous but even he has his own internal torture demonstrated in What Part of My Body and All Coming Back. There are so many layers to this show.

 

Technically it is something else! Earlier on I mentioned the phenomenal set, but there were also video screens either side of the stage. For scenes in Raven’s bedroom, on an above level behind a window which was mostly shut, there was a camera person following the characters round. We had pyrotechnics, motorcycles, a drone-Bat… and a lake. An actual lake. I probably haven’t covered everything – there are so many layers!! It was a true experience.

 

So was Bat Out of Hell worth the wait? Is it my favourite musical ever? Absolutely without a shadow of a doubt. I’m not saying that because I just saw it, I know the material so well and now it has been given a whole new life in the theatre. I was wondering how on Earth huge songs like Paradise, Anything For Love, It’s All Coming Back would fit into the story.  This was only the second preview though.

 

Afterwards we came across Stephen Rinkoff, who has been Steinman’s musical partner since around 1985! i could have spoken to him all night. He did say being a preview they are looking at trimming things down ‘so people can get their trains home’. He’s worked with Jim on the musicals, albums and other projects since. Audience members were encouraged to fill out surveys saying what they liked and didn’t like about the show.

 

In my mind I’d be happy for everything to stay and things to be added!! One song I can think of is Total Eclipse of the Heart– yes I know it’s the main love duet in Tanz der Vampire (and that arrangement blows the pop record out of the water) but it’s arguably Steinman’s most famous song. From conversations I overehard it seems Dead Ringer For Love may be a casualty – Life is a Lemon was only played in the background on a radio and teh Braver Than We Are song, Speaking in Tongues, was rumoured but seemingly cut in rehearsals? It seems this preview period will be used to gradually cut and trim.

 

We also managed to meet cast members who were kind enough to stay at the stage door afterward and talk to fans for ages afterwards.

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Here are my friends and I with Andrew Polec [Strat] and Christina Bennington [Raven]. And yes he is dressed as Meat Loaf!

 

Like I said, this was the first preview. The beginning of the journey which I can’t wait to follow. The show goes to London in June. I hope to see it in July before it leaves the country and hopefully takes over the world of musical theatre. I can’t wait to see where it goes. I can’t wait to play the cast album again and again and again and disappear back in to that world (Which knowing me will happen every night for months!!).

 

And then maybe there will be school/college/university productions, community theatre productions, tours, DVD/blurays … eventually a movie!?! Hopefully a few theatre awards along the way.   And this potentially opens the albums to a whole new audience, Bat Out of Hell the album is 40 years old this year – Musical Theatre students will be singing these songs for years and years to come. For Steinman this show is full circle but for the material this is a rebirth.

 

A great example is We Will Rock You introduced me to Queen in 2003, seeing that show prompted me to buy The Platinum Collection

 

And this is only the jewel in the crown of the Steinman Renaissance which started in September 2016 with Meat Loaf’s Braver Than We Are. Next month Tyce Green’s solo album ‘Hero’ will feature all songs by Steinman, as will Karine Hannah’s Renegade Angel. Tanz der Vampire has just opened in Switzerland.

 

It’s all so exciting.

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2 thoughts on “REVIEW: BAT OUT OF HELL [preview] 18th February 2017 – Opera House Manchester UK”

  1. I went to Manchester opening night and have booked for that at London Coliseum. I have my fingers firmly crossed that they cut NOTHING! It’s just perfect as it is! As an opera fan I’m used to a lengthy show (over four hours of Aida in Verona last July!) and Jim’s masterpiece, for masterpiece it is, seemed to me to be over only too soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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