In the eleven years since Bat Boy: The Musical began its life here in L.A. at the Actors’ Gang Theatre, it has gone on to be produced Off-Broadway, in London’s West End, at the Edinburgh Festival and in dozens of regional and international productions. The original L.A. production received four Ovation Awards, and Off-Broadway it won both the Lucille Lortel Award and the Outer Critics Circle Award as Best Musical. The revised London script is now getting its first local staging in a production which I wish I could say is worthy of the material.

I’m a big Bat Boy fan, and have been since I first heard the Original Cast Recording featuring Deven (Jersey Boys) May in a star-making turn as Edgar, the feral child raised among the bats, a role which he repeated in London. The London Cast Recording fleshes out the songs with dialog and replaces the 11th hour ballad “Inside My Heart” with the more powerful “Mine, All Mine,” a number which proves the highest point of the just opened The Relevant Stage Theatre Company production at San Pedro’s gorgeous and historic 1931 movie palace, the Warner Grand Theater.

Like Edward Scissorhands, Bat Boy (based on tabloid The Weekly World News’s story about a half-boy, half-bat found living in a cave) tells of an outsider taken in by a small town family, who “civilize” him and then introduce him to an initially hostile community. Both Bat Boy and Edward win the townspeople over with their unique charm and talents, until incidents beyond their control make them once again the object of fear and hatred.

Tonally, however, the two tales couldn’t be more different.  Bat Boy is both kooky and tragic, with the emphasis quite definitely on the former thanks to Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming’s hilariously clever book.

The non-professionals cast in the San Pedro production are giving it their all, and director Lucas Parker and choreographer Dylan Balderrama have certainly worked hard preparing this project.  The production might be better were it not been hampered by the worst sound amplification in my recollection. Voices are either over-amplified to the point of stridency (including frequent bursts of air expelled from noses) or scarcely audible, often both in the same scene, causing many of the script’s funniest lines and composer/lyricist Laurence O’Keefe’s funniest lyrics to be incomprehensible to anyone who’s not listened to either of the Original Cast CDs. Musical director Chip Colvin on keyboard leads a mostly good 5-piece orchestra. The set design by Brooke Corpus works rather well under obvious budgetary restraints.  The same can be said for Kara McLeod’s costumes.  Richard Taylor’s lighting design is however hit and miss.

One performance stands out heads and tails above everything else in the production and that is Jeff Leatherwood’s, as Edgar the Bat Boy. Despite the mike problems which plagued him along with his fellow cast members, Leatherwood (who recently starred in Sierra Rep’s production of Altar Boyz) manages to capture all of Edgar’s quirky charm, sadness, hope, and romantic heroism. A fine singer, actor, and (in a brief sequence) the best dancer in the cast, the charismatic Leatherwood is someone whose work deserves a production worthy of his talents.  As Shelley, the lovely 17-year-old Sydney Weir has some very good moments, and a soulful Larry Wiering brings the house down with his revival preacher’s “A Joyful Noise.”

Warner Grand Theatre, 478 W. 6th Street in San Pedro.

–Steven Stanley
October 9, 2008

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