Say what you will about Broadway, the absolute worst musicals don’t play there. This year, the completely vacuous “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise” opened and closed at The Shed at Hudson Yards. And now comes Jim Steinman’s long-touring “Bat Out of Hell,” which opened Thursday at the New York City Center for a brief summer run. Let’s give thanks to Broadway’s producers for not sullying the sacred pantheon of artistic expression that’s the Great White Way with such unadulterated junk. In comparison, “Beetlejuice” is the “Ulysses” of musicals.
Steinman’s songs mostly come from Meat Loaf’s “Bat out of Hell” trilogy and tell the story of mutant teenagers who never grow older than the age of 18. But there is hope. Unlike vampires, these mutant teens are easily killed. One of them (Avionce Hoyles) succumbs in Act 2, but not before Steinman’s book reminds us that his name, Tink, rhymes with words like “twink,” “blink,” “link” and “stink.”
For much of Act 2, the leader of the mutant teens (Andrew Polec) — he’s named Strat, which rhymes with “hat,” “brat,” and “shat” — is thought to be dead. Unfortunately, he is revived by a transfusion from his rich 18-year-old girlfriend, Raven (Christina Bennington), who is not a mutant but only acts like one.
Despite Raven’s nursing Strat back to health, they break up for reasons known only to Steinman, who does Rodgers and Hammerstein one better by creating not one but two secondary love stories: Raven’s horny parents (Bradley Dean and Lena Hall), who also split and reconcile in similarly confusing fashion, and two other mutant teens (Tyrick Whiltez Jones and Danielle Steers), who ultimately find love in the subway tunnel they call home. Steers’ character also doubles as Raven’s nurse-guardian-maid for reasons not divulged on stage.
Joy Scheib’s major directorial flourish is to have a videocam follow the principal actors around the stage so that close-ups of them can be projected on a large upstage screen (video designs by Finn Ross). It gives the whole enterprise an old drive-in movie charm, which is further enhanced by Xena Gusthart’s “adapted” choreography. Adapted from what? A workout video?