Fiona O’Brien reviews Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell musical at the London Coliseum
Jim Steinman has finally realised his dream after his music has finally hit the big stage on the West End, to mark the 40th anniversary of the release of Meat Loaf ’s album Bat Out Of Hell.
Having opened in Manchester earlier this year, the show has now hit London’s Coliseum, which is more well-known for hosting the English National Opera.
But this musical has higher hopes than just a one-off to mark 40 years since the release of one of the most iconic albums of all-time, and it certainly has the substance to perhaps clinch a residency somewhere in the capital.
First of all the premise and plot… Similarly to the likes of Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, based on the music of Abba and Queen respectively, the plot loosely fits around the songs which are the real crowdpullers, and can seem a bit flimsy at times.
In this instance the music of Steinman is set in a post-apocalyptic Obsidian and a young, rebellious leader Strat falls in love with Raven, the daughter of the land’s most powerful man, Falco.
Strat is played by Andrew Pollec, whose youthful, bouncy, charisma as a Peter-Pan type character is worlds away from the edgy Meat Loaf who made the songs famous, but in the context of rebellion is the perfect man to lead the fanfare of lust and love and rock ‘n’ roll.
He is in love with Raven, who makes a great feminine lead, virginal but open to the prospect to exploring riding into the death of the night.
The main couple however are completely overshadowed by the stage presence and talent of Strats’ would-be in-laws however, as Sharon Sexton and Rob Fowler completely dazzle as Falco and Sloane.
Their first number sees them lament getting older, but it is their second number that completely steals the first half of the show. Singing karaoke cult classic Paradise on a Dashboard Light, the pair break out into song during Raven’s 18th birthday in typical embarrassing- parent fashion.
It goes the whole way through each phase of the iconic song, with the pair making the most of the incredible set, and a vintage car to act out the romance of their youth.
Both are well able to belt out the tunes of Meat Loaf and the scene gets racier and racier as they strip and basically mime the famed baseball commentary from going from first base, to second and so on and so forth.
But it is during one of Steinman’s other epic love songs, It’s All Coming Back To Me Now, made famous by Celine Dion, that the pair seriously shine, as they come in during the second half of the number to really show the younger couple who is boss.
Sexton, as the long-suffering Sloane is witty and graceful while being powerful, vulnerable and lustful.
Another compelling part of the production is the phenomenal set and the use of a live video feed. Raven is locked away in her bedroom which overlooks the big, bad world that Strat and his young gang of rebels dictate.
All the while, the director does not hide the fact that there is a blatant camcorder in the face of the main characters when they act in Raven’s bedroom, as a romantic hue of the live feed is displayed across the dark streets that Strat’s gang reside over.
Tension sometimes arises from the fact that Steinman’s imagery often paints an American past while the show is set far into the 21st century.
This is pretty much solved, though, by framing the more nostalgic tracks as flashbacks or dream sequences.
The title number accompanies Strat’s attempt to spring Raven from her protected bedroom. But the lesser-known It’s All Coming Back to Me Now, sung by Meat Loaf as a duet with Marion Raven on Bat Out Of Hell III, becomes theatrically an affecting quartet for two troubled couples: the war-crossed lovers and her parents.
With the wealth of songs on board it is an absolute must for fans of Meat Loaf, but also those of popular culture itself. It is exhilirating in its pace and special effects, in its set and production, in its song and dance, so it is of no surprise that Andrew Lloyd Webber was a fan after seeing it and is rumoured to be helping find it a more permanent home in the capital.
Loudness is sometimes overdone resulting in some of the perky wordplay of Steinman’s lyrics being lost; but it still doesn’t disappoint.
The jokes in the songs are sometimes overpowered but then Sexton’s quick-talking Sloane more than makes up for that, and there is a huge laugh, and, intake of air whenBuick seems to crash into the orchestra pit.
The choreography rarely gets beyond synchronised limb-swinging. The best musicals have a compelling storyline, thrilling stage pictures and astonishing sounds. This show lacks the first at times, but Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.
• At the London Coliseum until August 22. Box office: 020-7845 9300.
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Having enjoyed a career on stage for the past 15 years, it is little surprise that Bat Out Of Hell star Sharon Sexton was obsessed with musicals as a child.