Lauraine Leblanc & Jack Durham
Mad River Union
FERNDALE – It’s a work ridiculous in premise, Shakespearian in scope, and bloody good in execution. It’s Bat Boy: The Musical, currently running at the Ferndale Repertory Theatre.
The musical is based on the wondrously disturbing character of Bat Boy, who was first revealed to the public in 1992 by the now-defunct Weekly World News, a widely circulated supermarket tabloid that focused on stories of the paranormal, supernatural and just plain weird. The tabloid was published from 1979 to 2007, then went belly up. It’s since been resurrected as a website.
The tabloid’s inkylicious black-and-white pages were filled with the kind of news that goes unreported by the mainstream media – earthquakes opening giant portals to hell, an extraterrestrial alien having an affair with Hillary Clinton, Saddam Hussein’s secret arsenal of giant slingshots, and, of course, Elvis being alive and well.
But Bat Boy was undeniably the paper’s greatest creation.
His mischievous adventures were well documented by the tabloid – he led police on a high-speed chase, he once bit Santa Claus, and, in 2002, he was even enlisted in the War on Terror to fight evil doers in the mountains of Afghanistan.
The patriotic freak was tenacious and effective, attacking Al Qaeda and, as the Weekly World News reported “making hundreds of their best caves unlivable by pee-peeing in them.”
But in the musical, a more sensitive side of Bat Boy’s character is revealed.
Part Edward Scissorhands, part Hamlet, the musical follows Bat Boy’s journey into the human world, from his discovery living in a cave to his difficult integration into a small rural town. Ferndale, by the way, is an ideal place to tell this story, as it’s a true cow town, and cows play an important part in the plot.
One of the wonders of Bat Boy: The Musical is Bat Boy himself, played with kinetic grace and incredible stamina by Joey Lawrence in his first musical lead. Lawrence is omnipresent – all over the stage, in the audience, jumping on the furniture, banging on the boards – and magnetically freaky – tearing the heads off animals, smearing himself in blood and howling in harmony with his hostess Meredith Parker, played with great humanity and prodigious strength by amazing amazon Alexandra Blouin. Bat Boy’s host, Dr. Parker, is played by David Powell in a welcome return to the Humboldt stage. Johanna Turney is notable as the fourth in the quartet of lead characters; she brings us along with her character Shelley Parker from demonizing Bat Boy to loving him.
For the road is not smooth for Bat Boy, who encounters prejudice, moral panic and scapegoating. He encounters a host of hostile townsfolk, each one funnier than the other and played by an ensemble cast that bends genders and mangles accents with great glee.
We are here “not to laugh, but to learn,” intones on character early on. But then the musical escalates beyond the point of absurdity, lulling us into believing it is a comedy. Not all musicals have a happy ending, Ferndale Rep has warned us, and in the end, Bat Boy is a tragedy of Shakespearian magnitude.
Although there’s an absurdness, and silliness, to the idea of Bat Boy, the musical is actually a timely tale about morality and justice – and the dangers of scapegoating and demonizing those who are different.
As the cast sings near the end “Know your Bat Boy, love your Bat Boy, don’t deny your beast inside!” We add to this, see your Bat Boy, love your Bat Boy, don’t deny yourself this ride!
Bat Boy: The Musical runs at the Ferndale Rep, 447 Main St., weekends through May 8. All evening performances begin at 8 p.m., with matinée performances on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $18/$16 for students and seniors. (707) 786-5483, ferndalerep.org