Songs to suck by

Jul 30, 2003 at 12:00 am

News flash: Bat child found in cave. If you’re a tabloid reader (and who doesn’t scan the Weekly World News while the checkout clerk’s scanning the Froot Loops?), this will come as no surprise. After fleeing his hometown of Hope Falls, W.Va., Bat Boy has led federal agents on a cross-country chase, gnawed on innocent citizens and even endorsed Al Gore for president.

What may shock you, however, is that officials have yet to capture the misunderstood creature, who is now here in Detroit, pouring out his tortured heart in song.

Bat Boy: The Musical, written by Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming and Laurence O’Keefe, chronicles the discovery and subsequent trials of Weekly World News’ Bat Boy. And — fortunately for us — the hysterically funny, poignant show has made its way out of New York’s Union Square Theatre (where it debuted in 2001) and into the realm of local director Michael A. Gravame and the Actors’ Company, a Michigan-based touring troupe. And although patrons of the Birmingham Village Players Theatre might be used to less zany work, this production is so well done that Detroit-area theater might as well sprout a pair of bat wings. It’s got new standards to fly up to.

The show begins with three hoodlum siblings exploring a cave deep below Hope Falls, W.Va. When the sister hood, Ruthie (Stephanie Jones) shines her flashlight on a “monster” and offers him a Frito, Bat Boy (Paul Wyatt) latches on to her neck for a different snack: blood.

The whole town’s in an uproar over the attack, and Hope Falls’ sheriff (Kalyse Edmonson) drags Bat Boy to the home of town veterinarian Dr. Parker (Jamie Richards) to have him put down. Parker’s out, so his wife Meredith (Meghan Randolph) and teenage daughter Shelley (Courtney Ell) are forced to contend with the frightened creature.

Wyatt is pure freakish genius as he scuttles into the Parker home, squealing, folding his arms/wings close to his chest in fear and hanging upside down from the bars of a cage to sleep. And it’s Wyatt — a musical theater major at the University of Michigan — who draws some of the biggest laughs as the Parker women fall in love with Bat Boy and refuse to let Dr. Parker kill him. Instead, they teach Bat Boy to read, dress him in human clothes and give him BBC language tapes.

In one long musical montage, Wyatt manages a completely flawless transition from a cornered animal … to a well-dressed, well-spoken, tap dancing chap that Mrs. Parker dubs “Edgar.” Hilarious. But even with his new, happy family, Edgar is still a freak in the eyes of narrow-minded Hope Falls.

So, when several cows mysteriously croak (from loss of blood?), it’s dangerous for Bat Boy to leave the house to catch the big town revival led by the Rev. Billy Hightower (Jumanne Langston). (It’s such a shame, as Edgar so wants to attend and has read the Bible several times by this point).

Matters are complicated by Dr. Parker’s jealousy as Mrs. Parker falls for Edgar. And the hormones raging between Edgar and Shelley Parker call Bat Boy’s origins into question. Is he bat? Is he human? Can he fall in love and be saved from blood lust by Hightower in his bright yellow gaiters and electric-blue pimp suit? For all its campiness, this show is also a smart commentary on prejudice and on folks who give lip-service to “Christian charity” without practicing what they preach.

Casting for the show is top-notch; these people can sing. The staging is interesting, the choreography is good and the sound is sharp. It’s a surprising discovery in a small, local theater.

News flash: If you’re in the checkout line, forget the Weekly World News, put down
the Froot Loops and go get a ticket.


Bat Boy: The Musical is at the Birmingham Village Players Theater, 34660 Woodward Ave., Birmingham, July 31, Aug. 1 and 2. Show time 8 p.m. Tickets $18 adults, $15 students and seniors. $10 special student price Thursdays. Call 248-644-2075.

E-mail Kari Jones at [email protected]