There’s a lot more than bikers riding on the expensive Jim Steinman/Meat Loaf musical at Paris Las Vegas…
The long-anticipated BAT OUT OF HELL: The Musical debuted at Paris Las Vegas on September 27th. The large-scale production is currently in preview performances. The purpose of previews is to identify problems and opportunities for improvement that weren’t apparent in rehearsals. The director can then make adjustments before critics are invited to attend. So this isn’t an official review, per se…but an opportunity to share first impressions.
That being said, BAT OUT OF HELL is already a winner in one major area. The futuristic rock fantasy has single-handedly resurrected excitement for live entertainment on the Strip. That’s no small statement, and I don’t make it lightly. The show, based on rocker Meat Loaf‘s legendary album trilogy, is the buzziest to hit the city in years. Seemingly everyone is talking about it, from fans and critics to industry insiders and skeptics.
Not even MAD APPLE, the latest from Cirque du Soleil, has generated this degree of hype. The entire hotel has been plastered with posters and advertisements for the rock spectacular, and even BroadwayWorld.com was covering rehearsals and casting leading up to the opening night. Talk about pressure.
Our own Clay Bushes recently offered her take on the precarious position that BAT OUT OF HELL occupies. She noted that Paris Hotel’s main theater has a troubling history of failed productions. It’s compounded by a hard-to-find location beyond the resort’s reservation desk.
The show itself has had numerous troubles in various cities, but fan response has been tremendous. Can Sin City’s version break Paris Theater’s supposed curse? We’ll find out in a few short weeks or months.
The Vegas production has struck gold with two of its leads. Travis Cloer returns to the same stage where he once played in JERSEY BOYS. His stunning voice combines with a commanding physical presence to empower “Falco”, the villainous father of star-crossed “Raven”. Cloer plays superbly against his good-guy persona, creating a character that’s as sinister as he is sexy.
Anne Martinez and Travis Cloer
Matching Cloer note-for-note is Anne Martinez, a true goddess of the Vegas stage. Anne has blown audiences away in such productions as BAZ, WORLD’S GREATEST ROCK SHOW, and FANTASY. A hard-working songstress who is rumored to never sleep, Martinez blankets the city in music. She recently appeared as a guest in RECKLESS IN VEGAS starring Michael Shapiro.
The ruby-tressed siren has, as with BAZ, been cast in a role that unleashes her power as both an actress and vocalist. Sexy, sultry, and sympathetic, Martinez blends with Cloer for several showstopping numbers that alone are worth the price of admission.
The remaining cast is quite young and has the unfortunate challenge of being on par with established stars. The preview performance I attended had a few weak links, especially in one pivotal role. Matters like this are sure to be ironed out as the actors become more comfortable with their characters. One cast member informed me that a particular male lead currently has four actors in rotation, so chemistry could improve significantly in the weeks ahead.
Jukebox musicals like ROCK OF AGES and MAMA MIA are unique in that characters and situations must be created around the lyrics of already-popular songs. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. BAT OUT OF HELL has a distinct advantage here. It began life in 1968 as a Peter Pan-inspired treatment entitled THE DREAM MACHINE (later NEVERLAND). Written and produced by composer Jim Steinman, songs from the show became part of Meat Loaf’s 1977 concept album of the same name, which has sold 40 million copies so far.
Steinman and Meat Loaf teamed up again in 1993 for BAT OUT OF HELL II: Back Into Hell, which received a critical drubbing at the time of its release. Now considered a worthy follow-up, BOOH 2 yielded five successful singles and sold 14 million units. BAT OUT OF HELL 3: The Monster Is Loose was far less popular and fell off the charts in a few weeks. Steinman wrote a few of the songs but did not produce this one. Without him at the helm, BOOH 3 only yielded one top-ten single.
Nevertheless, the concept for BAT OUT OF HELL was always a musical, not an album. Steinman considered his collection of songs to be the equivalent of a plot outline, perhaps even for a movie. His long-gestating dream was realized five decades later when the composer’s libretto for BAT OUT OF HELL: The Musical was finally performed in 2017.
At this point, you may be wondering about the plot. Think “Romeo and Juliet” meets “Peter Pan”. In a decaying, future metropolis, a race of eternally young teenagers dwells beneath the city in abandoned tunnels. They’re at war with Falco, a wealthy and powerful top-dweller whose daughter is obsessed with the tribe’s leader Strat. Raven’s mother Sloane is torn between loyalty to her husband and an envy-filled understanding of her daughter’s romance.
BOOH: The Musical boasts a unique dual-set design. A subterranean dwelling for “The Lost” fills the main stage, while the balcony-like upper level represents Falco and Sloane’s high-rise tower. Real-time closed-circuit projections allow the audience to be in both locations simultaneously.
Costumes and make-up depict a post-apocalyptic setting reminiscent of 80s films like THE ROAD WARRIOR, STREETS OF FIRE (which included songs by Steinman), and “Satan’s Alley”, the Broadway production within John Travolta’s STAYING ALIVE. Violence, sexual situations, and hard language would warrant an R rating on the big screen, making the show unsuitable for children and young teens.
BAT OUT OF HELL owes a lot to 80s action films and musicals…
BAT OUT OF HELL is filled with pyrotechnics, explosive blasts of sound, and a hard-rocking soundtrack performed by live musicians who are unfortunately out of sight. All of this is just an excuse for large-scale dance numbers set to the chart-topping power ballads and bombastic rock anthems you know and love. It isn’t high art but makes for a damned good time.
With live Vegas shows suffering across the board, there’s a lot at stake for BAT OUT OF HELL. Its pricey production values and advertising budget could help to jumpstart an ailing industry. Or, it could end up as just another footnote in Paris Theater’s list of failures. Whatever the outcome. this is a valiant effort that deserves to be on your entertainment schedule.
BAT OUT OF HELL: The Musical will make you laugh, sing, dance, pump your fists, and probably even roll your eyes a time or two. But you won’t be able to look away. And that’s the power of an epic night of live theater.
BAT OUT OF HELL: The Musical performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7 pm with an additional 9:30 pm show on Friday and Saturday. There is a strict age limit of 13 and over. Tickets start at $52 (plus taxes/fees) and are available here.