Bursting Onto the Stage Like a ‘Bat Out of Hell’

In the 4 a long time because it was launched, bearing the cowl picture of a motorcyclist blasting out of a graveyard on his bike, the Meat Loaf album “Bat Out Of Hell” has been described in some ways. Bombastic. Extravagant. Over-the-top.

But as Jim Steinman, the album’s composer and lyricist, mentioned not too long ago, “If you don’t go over the top, how are you ever going to see what’s on the other side?”

Listeners know “Bat Out of Hell” greatest for Meat Loaf’s indefatigable vocal performances, and for marathon-length energy ballads like “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” an everlasting ode to adolescent horniness, and the title observe, wherein a lovelorn biker operatically eats it after misjudging a sudden curve.

The music, nonetheless, is Mr. Steinman’s creation; the songs and the stressed impulses underlying them predate his skilled profession as a hitmaker for pop artists like Air Supply, Bonnie Tyler and Celine Dion.

On a Friday afternoon earlier this month, the musical’s cast was rehearsing in a midtown Manhattan studio space, ahead of the show’s August 8 opening at New York City Center. (Preview performances begin on August 1.)

Here, the show was stripped bare of its telltale pyrotechnics, its glitter bombs, robot bats and simulated motorcycles that speed across the stage.

In one room, dancers were thrusting and pivoting while a pianist banged out the chords to “Bat Out of Hell.” In another room, the actors Danielle Steers and Tyrick Wiltez Jones were rehearsing a scene that sets up “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” a not-quite-love song that they perform as a duet.

While Mr. Jones pondered a line of dialogue in which he told Ms. Steers, “I’ve seen you come here before,” the director, Jay Scheib, carefully offered the actor a note: “Put in a break before ‘before,’” Mr. Scheib said. He added, “And then wink at her.”

“You serious?” Mr. Jones asked.

“Totally serious,” Mr. Scheib replied.

From its inception, “Bat Out of Hell” has swerved all over the boundary between sincerity and absurdity. As an Amherst student, Mr. Steinman first conceived of and starred in “The Dream Engine,” a rock musical about a tribe of wild teens in a dystopian metropolis. Joseph Papp, the Public Theater founder, expressed interest in the project, and over the next several years, Mr. Steinman adapted it into a new work called “Neverland,” with characters and settings that more overtly referenced J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.”

He felt that the musical’s “ginormous” book, about a pack of eternally youthful teens who live underneath a mythical city called Obsidian, needed some reshaping and paring down. But he felt a familiar connection between Mr. Steinman’s text and his music.

“The songs were straight extensions of the scenes,” Mr. Scheib said, “and they felt like opera scenes.” Besides, he added, “What better metaphor for a broken heart than a crashed motorcycle?”

The show found an equally unlikely leading man in the floppy-haired Andrew Polec, who plays its unruly protagonist, Strat, and who rushed to try out for the project when he learned about it at an open casting call for “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical.”

Mr. Polec, who has been with the show since its original developmental lab in 2015, said he was introduced to the “Bat Out of Hell” songs in his teens, after he was injured in a bicycle accident and told he could no longer play contact sports.

The songs, Mr. Polec said, “go to the lowest of lows in your body and the highest of highs. It’s stretching you as a human being. It’s stretching your vocal cords almost to the breaking point. They turn music into an athletic endeavor.”

The “Bat Out of Hell” musical made its official debut at the Manchester Opera House in the winter of 2017, then played in London and Toronto over the next two years.

“I guess the songs might give a clue to something about me,” he said. “But I’ve never tried to figure out who Jim Steinman is. I’m pretty sure I’m better off not knowing.”

Though the songs of “Bat Out of Hell” are inextricably intertwined with his own repertoire, Meat Loaf said he felt only pride at seeing the show’s cast perform them in London. “Nobody will ever do it the way I do it,” he said. “It’s not a jealousy thing or an ego thing. It’s just do how I do things — people don’t do ‘em that way.”

Meat Loaf said he was also pleased that Mr. Steinman had fulfilled his longtime ambitions. “This was meant to be a musical,” he said. “I made it a rock show. Jimmy turned it around and made a musical. That’s what he wanted it to be.”

Source link Nytimes.com

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