We all remember the bold, black-and-white cover pages of Weekly World News. It was the King Supreme of all supermarket tabloids, on par with The National Enquirer, dominating the checkout aisles with its fabricated and laughable claims about Jesus sightings at Wal-Mart or redneck vampires attacking trailer parks. Most of the time, we skimmed over all the tall tales and went straight for the latest issue of People or a Snickers bar for the road home.
This time, the University of Wisconsin wanted to give Weekly World News its moment in the spotlight with a triumphant and sensational comeback. The University Theatre’s latest production, “Bat Boy: The Musical,” chronicles the lonely and dreary life of the notorious half-bat, half-boy creature and the tabloid’s most well-known headliner. For a musical based entirely on an outlandish feature out of “The World’s Only Reliable News,” “Bat Boy” proved to be a devilishly wild, dark and humorous treat for audiences and bat-lovers alike.
The 1992 Bat Boy cover story evoked curiosity and plenty of pity for the unfortunate cave-dwelling creature. According to the story, Bat Boy was a bloodthirsty human-bat hybrid living deep underground in the caves of West Virginia. His bizarre and mutinous face showed off his best – or some would say worst – features: huge pointed ears, saucer-sized eyeballs and a gaping black hole for a mouth, brimming with razor-sharp teeth. Imagine Dracula reproducing with Amy Winehouse, and you’ve got Bat Boy.
“Bat Boy: The Musical” was a classic spin-off of this wonderfully weird headliner with a few added twists that gave Bat Boy his own unique appeal. In this rendition, the story begins in a town called Hope Falls, West Virginia. With a population of 500, Hope Falls was a quiet mountain town with nothing to excite but cattle – until Bat Boy came along.
When three young, country-bumpkin spelunkers – Rick, Ron and Ruthie Taylor – discover the creature while exploring a cave, the small town goes batty with fear, horror and disapproval. The only person willing to take him in is Meredith (played by Meghan Randolph), the kind-hearted wife of the town veterinarian who sees Bat Boy’s inner potential.
Shortly after, she helps Bat Boy (played by Joshua David Atkins) in a marvelous transition from wretched freak to well-mannered young man. She teaches him proper English, social skills and even gives him a dance lesson or two. Pretty soon, Bat Boy, now named Edgar, is speaking with a refined British accent and dressing as if he stepped out of a J. Crew catalog. He reemerges into society as a whole new man, pleading for another chance at acceptance.
Both Randolph and Atkins offer impressive performances as leading characters. Atkins’ ability to transition back and forth from blood-sucking animal to gentle human being was fun to watch.
Randolph’s majestic vocals were a powerful addition to the musical and set the stage for many of the campy and catchy tunes, like “Hold me Bat Boy,” “A Home for You” and “A Joyful Noise.” The veterinarian, played by Scott Harman, was also a strong voice among the chorus and added suspense to the performance with his character’s jealous and insidious rages.
The talented cast and catchy musical selection made this 1997 production more than enjoyable to watch. However, the central theme of the musical was a bit clich? and overused. “Bat Boy” told the story of an outsider trying to fit into society and find his own spot in the world, a reccurring situation we’ve seen time and time before.
The character portrayals were also pretty cheesy. No matter where you turned to look, someone on stage either had a mullet, a trucker hat, shoulder pads or a scrunchie in their hair. The hillbillified performance was a big shout out to the good ol’ days of cow tippin,’ cattle ropin’ and banjo playin’ on the front porch with ma and pa, perhaps too much so.
Despite the occasional quirks, “Bat Boy: The Musical” was a comical adventure and a great way to top off those occasional dull Saturday evenings. It’s the perfect outing for people who enjoy watching things that are funny, weird and random all at the same time.
“Bat Boy: The Musical” plays through Dec. 10 at Vilas Hall’s Mitchell Theatre.