Bringing the anthems of Jim Steinman and Meatloaf to the big stage, this is a must-watch production for anyone who – like me – can’t get enough of big, big ballads, soaring choruses and heartfelt lyrics.
Over an hour before the start, a parade of bikes – similar to the one featured on the front of the 1977 Bat out of Hell album which catapulted Meatloaf to fame – snaked their way past the Mayflower and down surrounding streets. It was to set the scene for a memorable evening. Were we ready to rock? Hell, having been denied live shows like this for so long since the pandemic wrapped its tentacles around society, too right we were!
The musical debuted in February 2017, but it had been many years in the making. Steinman’s original idea, back in the early 1970s, had been to write a rock‘n’roll update of JM Barrie’s fairytale Peter Pan. Anyone even remotely familiar with Meatloaf’s music will know these are songs worthy of a musical of this scale.
There is more than a hint of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, in Bat out of Hell, with lead character Strat (Glenn Adamson) head of The Lost, a group of rebellious teenagers who will forever remain 18 living underground in a dystopian setting (rock musicals like a bit of dystopia – I give you We Will Rock You). I’m not sure what Wendy would have made of the ‘Deep End’, an old subway tunnel. Neverland wasn’t supposed to be like this …
Strat has fallen in love with Raven (Martha Kirby), daughter of a tyrannical ruler Falco (Rob Fowler) who has forbidden her from ever leaving her house. In addition to Raven, Falco has other problems with his wife Sloane (Franziska Schuster). Life is tough being the dictator of Obsidian (formerly known as Manhattan).
This is a spoiler-free review in terms of storyline, but I will say this – it’s brilliantly bonkers. But what did you expect of a production based around Meatloaf’s bombastic slices of rock – many of them mini operas in their own right?
All rock fans are familiar with the songs - Bat out of Hell has sold over 40m copies (though its highest position in the USA Billboard chart was 13th earlier this year after Meatloaf – Michael Lee Aday – passed away aged 74).
The cast do Steinman and Meatloaf proud. I have rarely heard rock songs performed this well in a musical - the range, the power, the delivery, was at times astonishingly good. Not just from the characters mentioned, but everywhere. One of my highlights was Zahara (Joelle Moses) and Jagwire (James Chisholm) delivering Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad in the first half of the show.
Other particularly memorable moments, in an evening packed full of them, was Falco and Sloane’s Paradise By The Dashboard Light (my favourite Meatloaf song), the title track – which closed the first half – a mesmerising Objects In the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are and a spine-tingling It’s All Coming Back To Me Now (featuring Strat, Raven, Falco and Sloane).
Adamson’s performance as Strad is of the highest quality, just looking at him on stage took me right back to the halcyon days of ’80s rock (okay, I’m not cool, but I don’t care). But he was surrounded by equally stunning performers. This was a team effort of the highest possible order.
One novel touch – I’ve never seen it before in a theatre setting – was a big screen showing live images (mainly from inside Raven’s bedroom in Falco Towers). It added another layer of visuals to a wonderfully high-octane performance. There was so much going on in front of you it was hard at times to know where to look.
As always with shows of this nature, the choreography was outstanding (and tight, the musical has been touring the UK since last September). The singing, to repeat, was outstanding. The storyline was madcap. So, two ‘outstandings’ out of three. Yeah, you can complete the sentence … (taking the words right out of my mouth as you do so).
I can’t praise this production enough. If you enjoyed musicals such as Rock of Ages and We Will Rock You, this is right up your air guitar alley. It’s loud – of course it is! – but also humorous, tender and poignant in equal measures.
‘On a hot summer night, would you offer your throat to the wolf with the red roses?’ Strad asks Raven on a couple of occasions. What a chat up line!
On a less sultry summer’s evening, though, I was glad to offer my ears and eyes a feast of musical entertainment I won’t forget in a hurry. You won’t either, if you want to get as revved up as those bikes last night …
Tickets for Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical are on sale at mayflower.org.uk or 023 8071 1811.
Until Saturday, July 2.