Infamous tabloid mainstay becomes an unlikely source for a musical
There are few joys in being trapped in the express lane of the supermarket as the guy at the head of the line dumps a pocketful of loose change and lint onto the conveyer belt. One of those few joys used to be taking the opportunity to scan the latest issue of the ubiquitous Weekly World News. Lord knows, it seemed all too silly to actually buy.
A tabloid in basic black and white, it detailed the continuing Photoshopped adventures of Elvis and UFOs, women having Bigfoot’s baby—and their most popular progeny, the now-infamous poop-culture icon Bat Boy. He was an instant smash hit the minute his screaming face hit the supermarket racks in 1992, and Weekly World News obligingly went on to keep its readers updated on his continuing adventures, even going so far as to establish the critter’s complete genealogy. To the dismay of many loyal readers, WWN‘s last print edition hit stands in August of this year.
The ripe narrative possibilities of the continuing adventures of Bat Boy inspired Keyth Farley and Brian Flemming to write a stage adaptation. They were joined by American composer/lyricist Laurence O’Keefe, and their first production premiered in Tim Robbins’ Actors’ Gang Theatre in Los Angeles. The musical then opened in New York City on Halloween in 1997 and continued to be mounted on stages around the world, translated into many languages. Even Korean.
So, like an avenging Frankenstein freed from the grave of the rag, Bat Boy lives on … and is flying into Chico for a weekend stint on the stage of Harlen Adams Theatre. With the opening scene taking place deep in a cave, the stage is used to its fullest possibilities.
“We are working to make the audience feel like they are in that cave,” says director Mike Mazur. “It is a very exciting and creative use of the space. It exposes our actors, designer and audience to a new type of theater that is alive in New York today. In addition, the songs are amazing, and the show really plays well to a college audience.”
The production follows the discovery of the eponymous Bat Boy in the dark recesses of a West Virginia cave. Taken back to the nearby rural town, the half-boy, half-bat is adopted by the family of a local veterinarian, Dr. Parker, who names the boy Edgar and teaches him to speak while he sets about integrating him into civilization—or what passes for civilization in cracker-barrel West Virginia—as the resentful and fearful townies finger their pitchforks and torches … waiting.
Just add a little incest and an interspecies orgy, and all hell is set to bust loose, albeit in a slapsticky and ironic sort of way. And oh, yes, there will be blood.
Banned from more than a few high school stages due to its irreverent content and at times earthy humor, the show is not for young children or easily offended adults. Sexuality, rape and social injustice are portrayed (even worse, there is pot smoking!). Plus the aforementioned bit of interspecies sex that leads to the inevitable bit of mayhem that fuels all good tragedies.
But while raunchy humor and pot smoking can be entertainment enough in themselves, Bat Boy: The Musical is also a indictment of xenophobia, and of the dangerous inclusiveness that is culturally perceived to pulse like bad blood through rural American veins (ironically enough, the seeming demographic of Weekly World News itself).
“There is a message of tolerance and acceptance throughout the piece, but the show also addressed the dangers of mob mentality and blindly following what society thinks,” Mazur said.
The cast includes Jimmy Robertson as Bat Boy, and his adoptive parents are played by Ross Lacy and Sarah Michelle Cuc. Recently, Cuc was the recipient of the first annual Carol Channing Scholarship.
“This award was presented to her last May by the Broadway diva herself,” Mazur said. “I really think we have one of the strongest casts for a musical we’ve ever had.”