On June 23, 1992 the tabloid Weekly World News announced to the world the discovery of a half boy, half bat creature. Plastered on the cover was a child’s face with a gaping maw of sharp teeth, big round eyes, and large pointed ears. His face would pop up on the cover again and again over the years as Weekly World News continued to tell of Bat Boy’s adventures. If you were a youngster like me, you remember staring at the tabloid racket that grocery store and wondering, “Huh?”
Flash forward to opening night at the Station Theatre where the Celebration Company members are singing “Touch me, Bat Boy / Love me, Bat Boy” while hugging themselves and dancing suggestively. The musical then hurtles headlong into a story about love, acceptance, prejudice, and guilt. Bat Boy: The Musical directed by Mikel L. Matthews, Jr. is also an energetic and exuberant production with a great cast and crew bringing their A-game to a different kind of horror story.
Throughout the play, moments of understanding and acceptance are juxtaposed with the strange, the violent, and the slightly disturbing in the fictional town of Hope Falls, West Virginia. Bat Boy (played by Evan Seggebruch) runs, jumps, and crawls on all fours as he hisses and screams at intruders Rick (Marc Wilson), Ron (Demi Williams), and Ruthie Taylor (Lauren Taylor) in the inky darkness of the theater. Bat Boy leaps out of the darkness in the illumination of the Taylor kids’ head lamps, you see him bite Ruthie. The Taylor boys react violently by kicking Bat Boy until he is knocked out. This opening scene sets a tone for the rest of the musical that, in spite of the happy songs about charity and love, underscores the darker and uglier side of humanity.
Once removed from the cave, a stunned Bat Boy is deposited at the home of the Parkers by the laconic Sheriff Reynolds (Chris Cayari). Meredith Parker (Kimmy Schofield) moons over the Sheriff who only cares about his upcoming re-election as they sing to young Shelly Parker (Anne Deichert) about “Christian Charity.” Immediately, Shelly doesn’t like the “Ugly Boy” in their care and goes on to describe Bat Boy as “bein’ a pill” to her boyfriend Rick. In a large cage in the Parker’s barn, Bat Boy bears his fangs and begins to fade from lack of nutrition. Rick and Shelly taunt the weakened Bat Boy in “Whatcha Wanna Do?”, a lively but kind of terrible 90s rap. The scene ends with Rick threatening Bat Boy’s life with a knife in retaliation for biting his sister Ruthie. Shelly tries to stop Rick, but her mother Meredith is the one who saves Bat Boy and shames Rick into leaving. In order to ease Bat Boy’s distress, Meredith promises to give Bat Boy a home in the lullaby-style song “A Home For You,” which eventually becomes a duet.
The strange plot and its sub plots thicken as Dr. Thomas Parker (Kevin Wickart) arrives home to see Bat Boy in his barn. Dr. Parker seems to recognize Bat Boy, but he seems more concerned about his wife’s affection for the boy in “Dance With Me, Darling.” When Dr. Parker gives Bat Boy some blood to eat… well, that’s when you begin to wonder if there is a lot more going on than we already know. These first few songs and scenes give you a strong sense of how strange this musical is.
What helps this odd musical tale is all all of the strong performances by the cast. Wickart is wonderfully creepy; his voice is strong and carries well in the theater. Schofield’s voice is clear and wonderful to listen to, and she plays Meredith quite well. Seggebruch as Bat Boy almost steals the show as he transforms from a guttural, night dwelling creature to a Christian, British-sounding young man. Also, I amazed that he can sing and speak clearly with giant fangs in his mouth.
Half of the cast pulls double-duty by playing multiple roles as well. Meaguell Gaines has a great sense of comedic timing along with a great vocal range. He enjoys the absurdity of Mrs. Taylor, which helps to alleviate the tension of the play. Wilson also seems to enjoy tossing aside the role of grungy country boy Rick Taylor to be the grandmotherly Lorraine. Williams, Taylor, Cayari, and Elaine Richardson populate the rest of the fictional Hope Falls with civic leaders and cattle ranchers. Not listed on the cast sheet is who played what animal in the second act’s “Children, Children” sung by Cayari as Pan in camouflage hunting gear. The choreography by Whitney Havice really made that scene (and others) unique and fun.
Backing the performers is a small but mighty pit orchestra. Off to the side of the stage, I marveled at the cohesiveness between the pit players and the actors. Musical Director Griffin Jenkins and the musicians didn’t drop a beat or rush the performers. Masterfully, the band handled the musical genre shifts from (bad) ‘90s rap to hoedown country to heartfest ballad to over-the-top gospel. All of the pit orchestra — Griffin and Li-Wen Wong on keyboards, Chadsworth “Bam Bam Boom Boom” Schwenk and Chris Patterson on drums, Jose Emilio Gobbo Jr. on guitar, Charles “Charleston Chew” Applebee on bass, and Robert Sweedler on synthesizer programmer — brought their valuable musical expertise to the production. At times, the pit was a tad too mighty as the music could drown out an actor’s voice.
To sum it all up (which is hard to do), Bat Boy: The Musical is like an episode of The X-Files (but minus Scully and Mulder) made into a musical with a splash of one particular infamous South Park Christmas episode and something reminiscent of Oedipus Rex towards the end.
Bat Boy: The Musical runs until Saturday August 6th. Performances begin at 8:00 p.m. and run from Wednesday to Sunday. For ticket prices and availability, see the Station Theater’s website or call (217) 384-4000.
Sarah Keim is a contributing writer for Smile Politely’s Arts section. She’s a bit of recluse on social media, but you might bump into her out in the wilds of C-U. Frequent sightings occur at farmers’ market, movie theaters, and festivals in town.
All photos by Scott Wells
Scott is a U.S. Navy veteran and a graduate of the University of Illinois. He has been a photographer and writer for Smile Politely since March of 2015.