An inflated concert crossed with amusement park production value, Bat Out of Hell is a hot mess of an attraction that will disappoint musical theater fans who expect a quality production.
But Hell might be entertaining for Meat Loaf enthusiasts or even fans of Jim Steinman, who was Meat Loaf’s frequent collaborator.
Based on the 1977 Meat Loaf album of the same name, the musical includes such songs as “You Took the Words Right Out of My Mouth (Hot Summer Night)” and “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That).”
They hold up with their catchy beats and melodies, but they do little to service a weak plot that resembles a cross between Romeo and Juliet and a Trump-ish dystopian nightmare.
Amid the strobe lights, fog machines and multiple shots of streamers and confetti all but overwhelmed book writer Steinman’s plot points, leaving them in a literal haze.
The setting is 2030, a tidbit bestowed upon audiences when they are handed The Obsidian Times, a faux newspaper, in lieu of a program. A group of misfits and miscreants called “The Lost” are running rampant in an underground city run by the selfish, tyrannical Falco (Bradley Dean).
Hell’s best moments are those Falco shares with his spirited, drunken wife, Sloane (Lena Hall).
Their relationship and their lack of inhibitions provide much-needed humor, but even that fizzles by the end of Act I.
Enjoy their rendition of “Let Me Sleep On It” knowing that, despite Dean and Hall’s phenomenal vocals and keen physicality, it will be one of few moments of levity in this incredibly drawn out sensory overload.
That being said, Falco’s and Sloane’s story is secondary to daughter Raven’s (Christina Bennington) and the leader of the Lost, Strat (Andrew Polec).
Raven wants freedom from the confines of her extravagant home and the rules of her strict parents. Strat spouts poetry at every turn, an annoying trope that is even more cloying from Polec, though he would be brilliant leading a Meat Loaf cover band. His energy has no bounds, but his acting is unmemorable.
His lack of charisma is an unfortunate trait shared with Bennington, who also has a dynamic voice that needs a less stoic actress attached to it.
Steinman’s book gets lazier as the musical progresses, even going so far as to mimic an episode of “Law & Order” by projecting the note “6 Months Later” before Hell’s groan-worthy finale.
Jay Scheib’s direction is dizzying.
Bizarre choices are hard to ignore, such as a videographer who tries to capture intimate moments in a bedroom set high above a city left in ruins and the nervous energy in the underground tunnels.
Bennington’s performance is not helped by the fact that Scheib has her writhing at every turn, leading one to wonder if Raven has enjoyed an ironic hit of Ecstasy.
Gareth Owen’s sound design is invasive and painful, often overshadowing the vocalists on stage. Alas, many lyrics fall into the clutches of sounds reminiscent of a theme park spectacle.
Xena Gusthart’s choreography is entertaining, though vertiginous.
The dancing is constantly frenetic, perhaps meant to distract from the holes in the rest of the production. (Kudos to the hardest working cast on a New York stage; they are constantly in motion for two hours and 45 minutes– a notable feat!
Meentje Nielsen’s costumes are thoughtfully outlandish and fun, ranging from Falco’s hot pink Speedo (which Dean wears with gusto) to the underground garb filled with studded belts, leather jackets and a hodgepodge of trippy pieces that may have last been seen the stage in a production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Jon Bauser’s extraordinary set steals the show with a multi-tiered Trumpian Tower skewed with a comic book vibe; his underworld is darkly laced with nuances such as old mattresses and broken road signs, while walls seamlessly transform into projections at every turn.
By the time Hell gets to “I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That),” audiences are so very much in need of a familiar hit there is an audible sigh of relief; the thin plot is thrown to the wind and they can find joy in hearing the show-stopper.
“Nothing is forever,” spouts one character; the length of Hell seems to prove otherwise, but when it finally concludes it’s as if it was almost worth being there to feel the palpable incredulity of the audience as they grapple with what they just experienced. Almost. Not quite.
For more information about Bat Out of Hell, playing at New York City Center now through Sept. 8, visit New York City Center’s Web site.