The story of a Bat Boy living in a West Virginia cave — illustrated with a photoshopped baby picture — amazed America in 1992 when published by Weekly World News, which bills itself as The World’s Only Reliable News. Playwrights Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming shared the popular fascination, and a gothic science fiction began stewing in their minds.
Five years later, with the help of composer/lyricist Laurence O’Keefe, their romanticized Frankenstein story — a sort of Edward Scissorhands meets Dracula and Liza Doolittle — became a hit musical with a shocking book and rocking score.
Now, Beverly van Joolen and Colonial Players shake up staid Annapolis with a five-star production and an all-star cast exultant in pathos, religiosity, hypocrisy and tasteful debauchery.
Ron Giddings as Bat Boy/Edgar is phenomenal, embodying his character’s mutations with curled extremities, nasal mewling, haunted eyes and adorably creepy ears. Yanked from his subterranean home, he lives like a curiosity with the family of Hope Falls’ veterinarian Dr. Parker (Chris Patton), suspended arms folded from his cage or flitting to the tabletop. Starved for love and blood, he is dependent on the charitable Parkers, who transform him from a bald beast to a civilized boy.
The virginal missus, Meredith Parker (Wendy Baird), mothers and tutors him as she sings A Home for You, feeding him people food he retches. Meanwhile, the villainous doctor secretly feeds his bloodlust and plots his destruction even as sister Shelley (Paige Miller) learns to love him.
Despite good intentions, proclaimed in the song Christian Charity, townsfolk are not so accepting.
Edgar alienated the locals right off the bat by biting young Ruthie Taylor (Emma Panek), who with brothers Rick (Nathan Bowen) and Ron (Corey Jeweler) discovered him in the cave. She’s been languishing in the hospital ever since. There Mrs. Taylor (Alicia Sweeney) croons Mrs. Taylor’s Lullaby to her with the comic shrillness of Edith Bunker. Hormone-crazed Rick seethes, in Whatcha Wanna Do?, over Edgar’s place in Shelley’s home and heart.
Meanwhile, Edgar’s Pygmalion-like transformation — mastering English with a British accent no less, singing Show You a Thing or Two — proves fantastic and fatal. Sheriff Reynolds (Scott Nichols), Mayor Maggie (Debbie Barber-Eaton) and citizens (Bronwyn van Joolen, Shannon Benil, Sam Cush, Kendra Penn and Shirley Panek) can’t warm up to the freak in formalwear.
When Edgar crashes a church revival where the Rev. Hightower (Lynn Garretson) raises the roof with Christian love, singing A Joyful Noise, Edgar’s earnest prayer for healing in Let Me Walk Among You is thwarted by Dr. Parker’s slanderous lies. Thus, the Bat Boy becomes the scapegoat for the community’s woes.
He and Shelley flee to the woods where Pan (John Hamli), sublime in fur and codpiece, presides over their coupling amid an animalistic orgy. His song is Children, Children. The couple quarrel over their future together in Inside Your Heart before her parents discover them and resolve the mystery of Edgar’s history (via a video projection to onstage scrims) to determine the couple’s fate.
It’s macabre, zany, sweet and ridiculous with rousing tunes like Hold Me, Bat Boy that you’ll continue humming all weekend. The entire cast delivers in this biting social commentary. Miller and Giddings will break your heart with their harmonies and humanity, while Hamli and Garretson astound with their powerhouse vocals. Baird and Bowen display comic genius in their singing and acting roles.
Colonial’s most technically intensive project to date, Bat Boy employs four types of LED lights, colored strobes, center stage floating projections, fire, smoke, fog, a mirror ball and moving sound. Even the program, in tabloid format, delivers with flashy headlines and bat-themed trivia.
You’ll have to see this extraordinary two hours and 15 minutes to believe it.
But don’t take the kids: Content depicts violence, sex and drug use, and special effects are alarming.
Musical director: David Merrill. Choreographer: Jamie Erin Miller. Set: Terry Averill. Sound: Wes Bedsworth. Lights: Frank A. Florentine. Costumes: Elizabeth Chapman. Makeup: Eddie Hall. Additional special effects: Keith Norris. Musical accompaniment: Right on Cue Services. Film: Make Your Mark Studios.
Playing thru April 19. ThFSa 8pm, Su 2pm at Colonial Players Theater, 108 East St., Annapolis. $20 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-268-7373; www.thecolonialplayers.org.