Arts Biting sacred cows

Bat Boy The Musical is the anti-Cats

A year after the Magik Theater's evening series for adults went belly-up, a new production has emerged phoenix-like (well, bat-like) from its ashes. Bat Boy The Musical, an improbable 2001 off-Broadway hit about a pointy-eared, gravitationally challenged teenager, now takes flight under the auspices of The Illegimate Theater, to distinguish it from the Magik's more prepubescent-friendly fare. No doubt about it: Bat Boy is an entertaining but thoroughly adult piece of theater, a spoof of sacred-cow musicals, bad B-movies, and even Greek tragedy. Laurence O'Keefe's witty tunes and lyrics draw on a pastiche of styles - gospel, pop rock, Country & Western - as they relate the travails of a lonely mutant Bat Boy, discovered by chance in a West Virginia cave.

Rick Sanchez and Shayna Zalcberg perform a scene from the Magik Theatre's production of Bat Boy The Musical. (Photo by Mark Greenberg)

After an unfortunate biting incident - when you're all fangs, these things happen - the Bat Boy is implicated in the deaths of a number of local cows, who have perished from that staple of the horror-film industry, "mysterious causes." Though a veterinarian's family offers to educate Bat Boy, local Christian conservatives want nothing to do with this frightening creature or his possible cow fetish, and as tempers flare, it becomes obvious that insurrection is nigh. In the meantime, an important subplot reveals the sinister machinations of the veterinarian. Guided by his own dark god, Dr. Parker sets into motion a series of crimes that threatens to plunge the entire town (of 25 or so people and/or bat people) into chaos.

The Illegitimate Theater's spirited production, guided by the steady hand of Dave Cortez, highlights much of the giddy stupidity of the plot, though some rough spots obscure the piece's drier wit. Cortez lucked out in securing the talents of Rick Sanchez, an actor - and I mean this in the kindest way - born to play the role of Bat Boy. Armed with Mr. Spock ears and a ghastly, photophobic complexion, Sanchez' hilarious portrayal of the boy's integration into society hits all the right notes, from his initial whimpering to his later indignation at the yokels around him: Better a Bat than a West Virginian. Sanchez also boasts a fine, resonant singing voice and excellent comic timing, particularly as a caged beast.

Sanchez is abetted by a mostly strong supporting cast, including Angela Hoeffler as a loveless doctor's wife, Shayna Zalcberg as her free-spirited daughter, and a surprising deus ex machina, ably channeled by Anthony Cortino. Unfortunately, David Morgan, as the villainous veterinarian, sings sweetly, but hasn't got the spark needed to create a truly compelling antihero. The audience keeps expecting him to throw back his head and cackle maniacally, but that moment never comes. It's a curiously flat portrayal in an otherwise over-the-top production.

Bat Boy The Musical

10pm Fri, 7pm Sat
Through Nov 12;
2pm Sun, Nov 13
$15 adult; $10 student

Magik Theatre
420 S. Alamo

The musical's production design is responsible for the evening's greatest peaks and valleys. A second-act shadow play, designed by Morgan, is so wonderfully offensive that there's nothing to be done but laugh long and hard at a particularly traumatic episode in the genesis of Bat Boy. And Morgan's clever use of projected images keeps the musical zipping through its paces. The production's greatest shortcoming, however, is in its inadequate sound design. Body mikes blast most of the lyrics at the same volume - fortissimi! - which robs the quieter scenes of any subtlety. Worse yet, the mikes often amplify without clarifying: In the choral numbers, it's often hard to make out the words, or even from which throats they emanate. As a result, the apparently witty lyrics of, e.g., a first-act hoe-down number are completely lost in the cacophony of souped-up singing. There's only so much that music director Christopher D. Littlefield and choreographer Desiree Johnson-Cortez can do when routinely sabotaged by this problematic audio design.

Aside from these technical challenges, this is a solid production that augurs well for a nighttime season at the Magik. In a short opening speech, Executive Director Richard Rosen announced that the next production would be the musical Urinetown, a kooky Broadway offering that sadly never made it to San Antonio. (Afraid of a piss-poor reception, I guess.) Until then, local audiences can enjoy in Bat Boy a musical that appeals to the little bat boy and girl in all of us.

By Thomas Jenkins


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