It doesn't matter if you hate musical theater.
It doesn't matter if you'd rather see "Saw IV." Or if you don't like bats, or boys, or haven't once desired to see a play.
"Bat Boy: The Musical," a spectacular production from Studio Arena and MusicalFare Theatre, has the potential to open shining new worlds for Buffalo audiences.
It's hateproof, and any doubters have 16 more performances to see for themselves.
In addition to being a glimmering example of musical theater's continual evolution, this landmark production demonstrates that a pair of Buffalo theater companies led by two Western New Yorkers can produce world-class theater with an entirely local cast.
That's no small accomplishment for a theater that recently came to the brink of insolvency after years of uninspiring programming and mismanagement. With this quirky and unorthodox choice by Studio Arena's artistic director and CEO, Kathleen Gaffney, now 18 months into her tenure, it would seem that era is coming to a close.
"Bat Boy" is the theatrical equivalent of Rome, with practically infinite points of access. The bizarre story, for instance. Taking its inspiration from a famous series of articles in the defunct Weekly World News, the show tells the story of a half-bat, half-boy creature discovered in a West Virginia cave. He is taken in and raised by a dysfunctional family, but his bloodthirsty ways don't sit well with the small, fear-mongering community of Hope Falls.
The program notes expound on the show's moral message of acceptance, love and the nature of the "beast inside us all." There is deep meaning behind the musical, but it has little to do with its success.
More of it has to do with scenes like the hilarious interspecies orgy among woodland creatures that occurs in the second act for no particular reason, or a stellar score by Laurence O'Keefe that includes songs like "Hold Me Bat Boy" and "Apology to a Cow." But most of it is due to the talent onstage, and that of director Randy Kramer, whose company -- MusicalFare -- has nurtured nearly all of them through the years.
As the famed Bat Boy, Louis Colaiacovo has found a role to sink his teeth into. In addition to the assured and forceful singing voice Buffalo audiences have come to recognize in Colaiacovo, he reveals himself here as a gifted physical comedian and inspired actor who imbues his character's journey with all possible pain, humor and pathos.
Lorraine O'Donnell, formerly of "PM Buffalo" (their loss) and currently an absolute riot onstage, brings down the house with her perfectly camped-up rendition of kindhearted matriarch Meredith. Her voice is a pitch-perfect instrument that lends the show much of its surprising beauty, especially in "Three Bedroom House," a duet she sings with Michelle Marie Roberts (Shelly), an earth-shattering force in her own right.
There's also Marc Sacco, a MusicalFare standby and jack-of-all-trades; Tim Newell, whose inimitable comic timing makes for big laughs; and Paschal Frisina III, who executes the foolish role of Rick with consummate jerkiness. Lighting by Chris Cavanagh, costumes from Kathleen Geldard, set design by Troy Hourie (both hail from elsewhere) and a spot-on band led by Michael Hake are all right on time.
In short, to take a line from the residents of Hope Falls: "Sweet wounded Jesus," can Buffalo put on a show!
"Bat Boy: The Musical"
Review: Four stars (out of four)Musical presented by Studio Arena and MusicalFare Theatre through Nov. 11 in Studio Arena Theatre, 710 Main St. For more information, call 856-5650 or visit www.studioarena.org.