The long awaited opening of the University Hall Theatre is this Thursday, as Bat Boy: The Musical opens a seven-performance run. The cult-classic, rock and roll fueled horror-inspired comic journey is ripped from a series of “news” stories about a half-bat, half-boy found in the coal-country caves of West Virginia.
Director Carrie Ann Quinn leads a cast of 16 through a tale immersed in the tabloid-news spirit, set in the age and culture the 1990s, a “simpler time,” she jokes, “when we were obsessed with sensationalized news about cloning, the OJ trial, the Buttafuoccos, and the Menendez brothers.”
Amidst the camp, the electric guitars and music, however, Quinn’s focus has been on a script that grapples with issues very much in the present.
"Even with a fun sense of nostalgia, the 90s was also the decade of the Rodney King verdict, the murder of Matthew Shepard, and the Oklahoma bombing,” she said. “And ultimately, the Bat Boy and the community face prejudice head on – asking us hard questions about what ‘acceptance’ and ‘tolerance’ mean while we wrestle with our differences. Ultimately, it’s a tale full of hope, led by a remarkable cast who will challenge the audience to rely on their collective imagination.”
Bat Boy: The Musical, story and book by Keythe Farley and Brian Fleming, and music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe, premiered with the Actor’s Gang in 1997 and has since had hit runs off-Broadway and in London’s West End. As the premiere production in the University Hall Theatre, the piece, choreographed by Danny Swain, makes full use of an extremely versatile space. A full rock band led by music director Todd Gordon occupies the catwalk above and behind the audience. The theatre’s fully changeable black box staging allows this production to occur on a three-quarter thrust stage, making every seat up close to the action.
For new actor Marquies Perez ’18, the opening of the new theater also marks his first time on stage. After years battling stage fright, he finally decided to audition – and landed the title role. With makeup artist Tori Moline, working with faculty costume designer Raphael Jaen, Perez will be transformed into the Bat Boy, a half-bat adolescent freak with fangs.
“The teeth are great, I love the teeth,” Perez said. “I had to sit for like an hour so they could mold them. But it’s not about the makeup – when we’re in the thick of it, the way Carrie Ann’s directing us, she’s very specific with what she wants from us as actors. But the clothes, and the makeup, do bring it out.”
Entering the theater, audiences are encouraged to look up, and around, before the house lights go down. Lighting and Scenic Designer Anthony Phelps stresses that the story, the characters, will be the center of attention – but since moving from McCormack Theatre the theatre arts students are utilizing an massive upgrade in technology in the new space.
Two stories up, above a suspension grid, state of the art LED lighting replaces the century old incandescent technology. At McCormack, each lighting fixture could accommodate a single color with a gel. The new technology allows an infinite spectrum that can change on the fly. Phelps said, the new theatre can accommodate almost any vision for a production.
“It allows you to have a certain subtlety to storytelling that we didn’t have before,” Phelps said. “Architecturally, we now can far more safely and quickly change light fixtures and seating configurations. Where at McCormack we’d be using ladders, and we have a lot of people who are afraid of heights, we now have a tension grid that allows us to walk to light fixtures. The floor, is trappable – future shows we can actually have things come up out of the floor. We’re far more versatile.”
Bat Boy: The Musical runs Dec. 1-3 and 7-9 at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on Dec. 3, in the University Hall Theatre. Tickets are $15 for students, $20 for the general public, and available HERE for advance purchase.