BAT BOY: The Musical RCA Victor 09026-63800
"In a cave many miles to the south, lives a boy born with fangs in his mouth," they sing in the opening number. "Hold me Bat Boy, touch me Bat Boy, help me through the night." Are these guys for real? Turns out they are.
There seems to be a trend nowadays to write new musical comedies about bodily fluids, not — perhaps — the likeliest subject matter for musical theatre. Fill it with good writing and clever ideas, though, and you'll certainly get my attention. Composer/lyricist Laurence O'Keefe does just that in Bat Boy. You think, initially, that this guy has got to be kidding; and it turns out, he is. Bat Boy is pretty much The Elephant Man, except that this Elephant Man shows up for the second act in a blue blazer with tassled loafers and gets the girl (before they all end up dead). O'Keefe and his librettists, Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, are relentless and very funny. O'Keefe is one of the 3hree composers of the Broadway-bound 3hree. As reviewed in this column recently, O'Keefe's one act The Mice [DRG 12992], similarly, has some wonderfully enjoyable musical theatre writing.
Bat Boy starts out with a strong rock beat. Four songs in, though, the animalistic title character starts grunting in harmony (with an impressive counter-melody) to "A Home for You." This is followed by the townfolk singing "we got another dead cow, and the rent is overdue," at which point you realize the game, and are more than glad to play along.
Bat Boy's 22-track CD is packed with numerous goodies (not all of which come across without the visual). Best of all, perhaps, is the remarkable "Show You a Thing or Two." The mother (Kaitlin Hopkins) starts out trying to teach her illiterate Bat Boy (Deven May) to speak; by the time she's done, he's singing and dancing and rhyming in a show biz explosion. (With a British accent no less, shades of Colonel Pickering and "The Rain in Spain.") This lyric is so image-packed that you'll need to listen to it again and again; O'Keefe spits out allusions to the Wailing Wall, Disneyland, Copernicus, Darwin, Plato and Cato and Ruby Ridge and the Bates Motel in 4/4 time. This is deft satire, folks, set to as infectious a soft-shoe shuffle as I've heard since Bill Finn wrote "Everyone Hates His Parents."
There is also one of those overly-energetic revivalistic gospel numbers — led by Trent Armand Kendall — in which the chorus simply lays down and dies. Very, very funny. This leads into Bat Boy asking the townspeople to "Let Me Walk Among You." ("I will move a mountain," he offers, "I will do your laundry, let me file your taxes, I'm a CPA.") Hopkins and Kerry Butler, as her daughter, sing about a "Three Bedroom House," and you'd think you were back in Bye, Bye Birdie — except that O'Keefe slips in that they'll get a great big pit bull on a chain and plastic surgery and a good dental plan. O'Keefe lets The Phantom have it as well, and the three main characters get their throats slit in a finale that might remind you of another musical that ends in a blood bath. Bat Boy also has one of those innocent-children-romping-in-the-jungle-with-the-animals songs that out-king's The Lion King. I guess you really need to see this one in the theatre to get the full impact; but then, a visit to Bat Boy — at the Union Square — is a pretty good idea.
WINDFLOWERS: The Songs of Jerome Moross ps classics 102
Jerome Moross is best remembered today for the 1954 musical The Golden Apple and a clutch of sweepingly rich movie soundtracks (led by "The Big Country"). His work is typically lushly-textured, highly melodic and intensely American-flavored; somewhere between Aaron Copland and Bernard Herrmann.
Moross's theatrical activity was limited to four major projects. The Golden Apple — by Moross and John Latouche — is the only one that has survived, in part because it was the only one that was recorded. The original cast album [RCAVictor 09026-68934] is severely truncated, with an awkward narration; it nevertheless gives an idea of the power of this score. A new and complete recording is long overdue; maybe someone, someday, will foot the bill.
Moross's prior musical — also with Latouche — was the experimental Ballet Ballads, which played the Music Box in 1948. This was an evening of three dance/theatre pieces, not unlike Contact (except that Ballet Ballads utilized an original score, with dramatic, rather than "pop," songs). Moross also wrote an aborted musical called Underworld, about Al Capone's Chicago. Moross and collaborator Ben Hecht fought, and the show was abandoned in 1962. From the evidence of the six songs included here (with lyrics by John Hollander and Lester Judson), that's a shame. Moross also wrote a Civil War minstrel show — yes, a Civil War minstrel show — called Gentlemen, Be Seated! This was produced, oddly enough, by the New York City Opera for three performances in 1963.
Producer Tommy Krasker and music director Eric Stern initially mounted Windflowers as a cabaret evening at Joe's Pub in February 2000. Krasker and Stern — who have provided similar services on many noteworthy albums (including some wonderful albums by Audra MacDonald and Dawn Upshaw) — have given Windflowers their typically first rate treatment. That is, uniformly fine performers and musicians, well suited to the material. The songs are performed by Alice Ripley, Richard Muenz, Jessica Molaskey, Philip Chaffin, and Jenny Giering; orchestrations come from Larry Moore and Larry Hochman. Ripley does an especially touching job on "Windflowers" from Golden Apple, bringing surprising new values to the song. "I've Got Me," from Ballet Ballads, comes across very well; Chaffin gives an attractive, footloose performance, matched by a good orchestration from Stern (who also does a nice job at the piano). "It's Almost Time Now," from Underworld, is one of those lonesome, middle-of-the-night gangster ballads. It's a valuable find and evocatively sung by Muenz. Muenz and Giering give us a grand "It's the Going Home Together," with one of Moross's simple but rapturous melodies. This is followed by a lovely song of mourning called "Some Day," written for a 1964 short subject. Ripley, again, does a wonderful job. "My Yellow Flower" and "Ridin' on the Breeze" (Giering and Chaffin), from the Davy Crockett section of Ballet Ballads, are also lovely. They have also added a brief version of "Stay with Me," a "pop" lyric Carolyn Leigh wrote to Moross's strong theme from the 1963 film The Cardinal.
Windflowers is not for everybody, certainly, but it's extremely well done, in song selection, performance, and musical quality. Fans of Jerry Moross — and those wishing to discover his work — should be delighted.
-- Steven Suskin, author of "Broadway Yearbook 1999-2000" and "Show Tunes" (both from Oxford University Press) and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books.