Review: 'Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical' at Manchester Opera House

Lucy Moore

OnStage United Kingdom Critic

Bat Out Of Hell”, Jim Steinman's epic, 40 years in the making rock musical, opened for previews in Manchester in February this year, before premiering in mid March. I was given the opportunity to go to the launch back in November so it was incredibly exciting to see the finished product come to life.

The show started suddenly and without warning, making the whole audience jump as Strat (Andrew Polec) leaps headfirst into a dramatic opening monologue, which brings me onto my first issue with the show. Strat speaks mainly in this strange, pose like way, which I assume is supposed to mirror the lyrics from Jim Steinman. However it’s never really explained why he speaks like this, and it usually sounds quite strange. Plus, Strat’s opening monologue, though fun and interesting had no relation to any of the rest of the show.

The plot of “Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical”, like many jukebox musicals, is a bit hit or miss. It’s like a strange mix of “Peter Pan” (The plot draws heavily on this), Romeo and Juliet, and the Queen musical, “We Will Rock You”. Yes, those who are familiar with “We Will Rock You” will certainly see many elements mirrored here. The dystopian dictatorship, the protagonist who speaks in strange, lyrical prose, and the rebel group who live their lives under the city. There are plenty of things to differentiate it from the Queen musical, but some plot points need more development, and some characters that need more time spent on them. The youngest member of “The Lost”, Tink (Aran MacRae), has a vague relationship with our male protagonist, Strat. It was insinuated that Tink may have been in love with Strat, and Strat refers to Tink as his “soulmate” at one point, but it’s all a bit confusing.

The two protagonists, Strat and Raven (Christina Bennington), have some nice chemistry and they are believable as teenagers in love, and their performance of “You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth” was awesome to say the least. However, considering how Strat was the marketed protagonist of the show, he wasn’t really in Act One that much at all, so I would argue that this is Raven’s story, not Strat’s.

Every single vocalist blew me away. These songs are enormous, and hard to sing. They made it look effortless. I also often forgot that these were Meat Loaf songs, that I had heard before. The performances sounded new and fresh, less like a rehashing of well known songs, more like a loving tribute. Two of the stand-out vocalists for me were Dom Hartley-Harris as Jagwire, and Danielle Steers as Zahara. Their performance of “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” was amazing. It was one of the only “quiet” moments in the show, just allowing the audience to appreciate these two powerhouse vocalists.

On the other end of the spectrum, “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” was probably my favourite moment in the entire show. It was silly, and funny, and the vocals were incredible. As someone who was beginning to write a musical using the songs of Meat Loaf before this show was announced, they staged this just as I imagined, but with a few surprises thrown in there too. It was great fun watching poor Raven react to her parents (Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton) romp around together, reminiscing what it is to be young and sexually charged, culminating in Raven pushing a Cadillac into the Orchestra Pit. I wanted to watch it over and over again!

The set was absolutely incredible. Every aspect looked flawless and innovative. There was the introduction of filming parts of the show and projecting it onto set pieces that weren’t relevant in the scene, which was totally new to me and I had never seen anything like it. It added to the “rock concert” feel of the show and allowed for the audience to see new angles of scenery. I did really like this, though the Camera Operators were often in full view on stage, especially when following Raven around her room, which was very distracting at times. I think this could have been solved by relating the cameras to the story, perhaps having Falco use the cameras to survey his daughter and The Lost.

I had a slight issue with too many things going on onstage at once. Almost every song had elaborate choreography to accompany it, which, whilst fantastic, often drew attention away from the actual focus of the scene. That’s not to say the dancing wasn’t fantastic, I just think there’s a reason why most musicals have breaks in the music for the more complicated dances.

I also thought that Falco was quite a weak villain. We were given little to no indication of what his motives were, and he resigned to The Lost very quickly, though this did give us one of the best surprises from the show, with Falco jumping into a pool and emerging with a Meat Loaf shirt on! The show focused more on his failing relationship with his wife than his actual villainy, though we did get a great Act Two opening from him in “In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King”, which was wonderfully staged and acted.

My favourite character was Sloane, played by Sharon Sexton. I feel she had the best inner turmoil and arc out of all the characters, and every song she was in left me speechless.

Overall, this show was tons of fun. Though it had many weaknesses in plot and character development, it's still a fantastically good time, with mind-blowing vocals, incredible dancing, an amazing set and plenty of surprises. You should absolutely check it out if you get the opportunity, as I guarantee you will enjoy it.