The stars of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell:The Musical, which officially opens in Toronto Oct. 25 (previews started Oct. 14), have watched theater-goers sing along to every song at every performance. And just like Rent has “Rent-heads” and Les Miserables has “Mizzies” or “Misfits,” they have their own regulars. “We have a Bat Clan,” actress Christina Bennington tells Billboard. “I’d say we have super-fans.”
And they’re not just the older generation who were original fans of Meat Loaf’s 1977 album, Bat Out of Hell, which sold 43 million copies globally. “We have a massive range of ages,” she says.
The musical, directed by Jay Scheib, opened in Manchester, England, in February of this year and ran until the end of April, then moved to London’s West End from June until late August. It has now settled in Toronto through to Dec. 24 at Ed Mirvish Theatre.
Steinman originally wrote Bat Out of Hell for the stage in 1975. It was performed once, under the name Neverland, in 1977. Forty years and many script revisions later, and Bat Out of Hell – The Musical is now about some rebellious teens in post-apocalyptic Obsidian, ruled by the tyrannical Falco. A character named Strat (Andrew Polec) falls in love with the leader’s daughter, Raven (Bennington), and sets out to rescue her.
It includes the songs “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” “Paradise By the Dashboard Light,” I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That),” and “Bat Out Of Hell,” plus two previously unreleased songs, “What Part of My Body Hurts the Most” and “Not Allowed to Love,” and more. A two-CD Original Cast Recording has just been released.
“People have such a love for the music, as we do,” Bennington says. “It’s so great that people feel liberated enough that they can come and sing along.”
Polec says Bat Clan or not, the audience knows every single word. “Every word, every breath,” he stresses, “and they scream their faces off at the end of each number where it feels like the roof is going to collapse on the theater. They’re a true gift to perform in front of because everything we give, they give it back a hundred times.”
Meat Loaf hasn’t seen the production yet. He met Polec and Bennington for the first time in Toronto in May where they were in town to promote the upcoming show. The two younger stars were eager to get their photo with the legendary singer and actor.
Even though neither was alive when Bat Out of Hell came out in 1977 — both are in their early twenties — “We both have interesting histories with it,” says Polec.
“When I was a teenager,” he begins, “I was in a really bad bicycle accident, kind of like the song ‘Bat Out of Hell’ and I went to the E.R. to the trauma unit for five days and when I got out they said, ‘You’ve had a real bad concussion. You can’t do sports for a year.’ I was a big lacrosse player and that devastated me because I didn’t know what to do with all my extra time and energy.
“My dad played me ‘Paradise By the Dashboard Light’ because he could see I was down. I fell in love with Meat Loaf and his energy and the whole Bat Out of Hell album and it pushed me into the whole direction to be a performer and a theater person.”
Adds Bennington: “I listened to it as a kid when my parents would play it on long journeys in the car because it’s a great road trip album. My dad loved the music and I’ve always known it, but it’s amazing to rediscover it from afresh. It means something completely different every time you hear it, but definitely from hearing it as a 9 or 10 year old.”
“I think that’s what’s beautiful” Polec interjects, “because as Meat Loaf would say, ‘Everyone has their own interpretation of the album.’ He suggests that instead of having Meat Loaf on the cover of Bat Out of Hell, just take a piece of tape, put it on the cover and write your name on the album cover.”
Polec knows he is filling big shoes, an iconic singer and actor with a big presence and even bigger voice. “It’s an honor,” he says. “It’s such a privilege to be accepting the torch from Meat Loaf as a beautiful ensemble and to pass on this music into the future. We’re very happy to be doing it.”
He recently won the Joe Allen Best West End Debut award at The Stage Debut Awards, which is determined by public vote, “recognizing breakthrough actors and creatives in theatre.” Bat Out of Hell is also nominated for the Radio 2 Audience Award for Best Musical by the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, also voted on by the U.K. public, to be awarded Dec. 3.
“I’ve never experienced anything like the reception we’ve got on this show,” Bennington adds. “It gives us a lot of adrenaline. It’s like people want us to know that they’re loving it. We feed off each other. The more they give us, the more the show progresses. We’re buzzing after the show. You can’t sleep afterwards.”
Bat Out of Hell: The Musical marks the first production from a new worldwide partnership between Michael Cohl’s Iconic Entertainment Studios (Spamalot, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, Rock of Ages: The Musical), and Canada’s Bell Media. It is co-produced by Cohl, Bell Media president Randy Lennox, David Sonenberg (Dance of the Vampires) and Tony Smith (Rock of Ages: The Musical).