A good friend loves to remind me of a pure expression of astonishment he once witnessed on my face. It was at Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and it came as Lena Hall hit the final note of “Midnight Radio.” The note was triumphant and seemed to go on forever – in my friend’s telling, he looked over to see my jaw quite literally on the floor.
Hall deserved it then, and she deserves it in every moment she’s onstage in Bat Out of Hell. Of course, it’s a shame to see Hall already cast as a mom. Then again, it’s the show’s best role and Hall milks every goddamn moment. From her first drunken ramblings to her final belt on “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now,” Hall is transcendent and can’t help but blow everyone else off the stage. Throughout the totally batshit Hell – but especially whenever Hall was on stage – my jaw again rarely left the floor.
That “It’s All Coming Back To Me Now” number is a perfect encapsulation of what Bat Out of Hell is going for, and how successful it is. When the opening chords of the song started to play, my audience was already applauding. The goodwill is there, all you have to do is nail that high note. Reader, they did – all four principals, though none more than Hall. She enters the number halfway for no clear reason plot-wise, gracing us with no excuse except to join in the belting.
Hall wandering into that number was in keeping with the show’s internal logic. Nothing here is designed to make sense. It is set in a post-apocalyptic city (New York, I think?), and vaguely traces a war between the Lost Boys of the streets and the cruel despot Falco. The four leads are Strat, a leader of The Lost who will be 18 forever (Andrew Polec), Falco’s daughter Raven (Christina Bennington), who falls for Strat, the cruel leader Falco himself (Bradley Dean), who is more buffonishness than evil, and his embittered wife, Sloane (Hall), who is sympathetic to Strat and Raven’s young love.
The dystopian world of Jay Scheib’s staging is half-formed, its rules and geography laughably unclear. But none of that matters. The show sweeps you along not with a story, but with feeling – the angry, joyful, anarchic energy of Jim Steinman’s masterful songs. Most of the numbers, particularly the second act’s numerous solos (maybe a couple too many) do not advance the plot. But each hits on, for lack of better words, a whole ass mood. The numbers don’t relent until you, too, feel it in your gut – whether the loneliness, the rage, or just the overwhelming lust.
The performers are equally unrelenting. Polec channels Meat Loaf’s indomitable spirit, thrashing and leaping around the stage like a wrecking ball. Strat is barely a character, but you’ll believe this destructive force could potentially rip his own heart out of his body. Bennington is less engaging, but her voice is equally tremendous. Dean chomps the scenery as dastardly Falco, especially killing “Paradise by the Dashboard Light.” And then there is Hall.
It’s not always a good sign if a performer is really, really enjoying themselves. Here though, it just feels right. Hall is having a damn good time. Why not? It’s a damn good time. The staging, overpacked with unnecessary video gimmicks, is a glorious mess. Act One closes with an endless, maniacal riff on “Bat Out Of Hell.” Bennington’s “Heaven Can Wait” is killer. Once we enter the finale (naturally, it’s “I Would Do Anything For Love”), pure joy has taken over. Which is lucky, since any vague semblance of story is now completely out the window.
Somehow, even the cheapness of this City Center staging only endeared me to Hell more. Even if you don’t know the details of the show’s far more extravagant London production (my companion had seen it), it’s clear something is missing. The sets look squashed, the costumes are half-assed and the ensemble…well, can we even call them that?
Yet in response to the flimsy staging around them, the performers only push harder. Like, Meat-Loaf-screaming-down-a-microphone-in-the-‘70s hard. The emotions of this Bat Out of Hell are beyond heightened. Every song is pure release. All the rage, love, and horniness of a generation is wailing in your face. Honestly, it’s a beautiful thing.