Sunday, August 14, 2016

BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL • Stray Dog Theatre

In 1992, Weekly World News published an outrageous, recurring story about a “bat child” spotted in a southern cave in West Virginia. Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming (book) and Laurence O'Keefe (songs) turned this tabloid tale into a musical about a family that takes Bat Boy in, and the effect this addition has on the family and their rural town of Hope Falls. As you might imagine, the show’s camp-factor is high, but Stray Dog Theatre’s production also unearths the show’s inherent themes of “otherness,” bonding, prejudice and fear, and grounds it with some strong, ardent performances.

Corey Fraine is the show’s intrepid and agile titular character, equipped with pointy ears and fangs. After being discovered by the Taylor kids, an alarmed Bat Boy takes a bite out of Ruthie (Lindsey Jones), gets a beatdown from Ruthie’s brother Rick (Michael A. Wells), and is taken to the Parker’s home to be put down. Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly) is the local veterinarian, but by the time he gets home, Mrs. Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid) has taken a liking to the little fella, and their teenage daughter, Shelley (Angela Bubash), takes to Bat Boy with all the passion of a child smitten with a puppy.

Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly), Bat Boy/Edgar (Corey Fraine)
and Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Mr. Parker goes along with the plan to keep him, perhaps trying to mend the widening rift in his marriage, but that goodwill doesn’t last long. In one of the show’s best numbers, “Show You a Thing or Two,” Bat Boy, now called “Edgar,” is civilized My Fair Lady style, by the steadfast efforts of Meredith, while Shelley and Edgar become close. This all pushes Thomas further from his family, while the townsfolk, already on edge from the rapid loss of their cattle, want nothing to do with this outsider, and are out for blood.

The cast of 10 covers over 20 roles, often mixing gender roles right before your eyes. The ensemble numbers are given a wonderful lift with choreography by Mike Hodges, strong voices, and the band, under the musical direction of Chris Petersen. The growing frustrations of Thomas Parker are brought to life by Kelly, stuck in a loveless marriage, with great work in the number “Dance With Me, Darling,” and Schmid’s conventional housewife Meredith Parker contributes strong acting and a lovely voice, particularly in the number “Three Bedroom House,” performed along with Bubash, whose depiction of a moody teen is spot-on, complete with stomping, pouting and eye-rolling.
Bat Boy/Edgar (Corey Fraine), Shelley Parker (Angela Bubash),
Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid) and Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Shout-outs also to Michael A. Wells as the strong-voiced Rick and an animated Reverend Billy Hightower in “A Joyful Noise,” Tim Kaniecki as Pan in “Children, Children” and Colin Dowd as a hilariously sanctified Lorraine.

The night I saw it there were a couple of moments where the timbre seemed off, but it wasn’t a vibe coming from the cast -- it was coming from the space itself. This past July, the Stray Dog family, and the St. Louis theatre family, lost SDT’s longtime production manager Jay V. Hall to suicide. Though that indescribable loss hung in the air, director Justin Been and the cast and crew performed this show with its typical exuberant devotion, now softly pronounced with somber hues, making the show more visceral. The show must go on after all, and to Stray Dog’s credit, it has -- in grand fashion.

Front: Shelley Parker (Angela Bubash),
Bat Boy/Edgar (Corey Fraine),
Meredith Parker (Dawn Schmid) Middle,
l to r: Roy (Michael A. Wells), Bud (Tim Kaniecki),
Maggie (Sara Rae Womack),  Clem (Lindsey Jones)
Back, l to r: Institute Man (Colin Dowd),
Thomas Parker (Patrick Kelly)
and Sheriff Reynolds (Josh Douglas).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Go see it. It’s playing at Tower Grove Abbey until the 20th.


Story and Book by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming
Music/lyrics by Laurence O'Keefe
Directed by Justin Been
Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave.
through August 20 | tickets: $20 - $25
Performances Thursdays to Saturdays at 8pm, additional performances 8pm Wednesdays, August 10, 17 and 2pm Saturday, August 20

Shelley Parker: Angela Bubash
Sheriff Reynolds/Delilah: Josh Douglas
Lorraine/Mrs. Taylor/Father/Institute Man: Colin Dowd
Bat Boy/Edgar: Corey Fraine
Ruthie Taylor/Ned/Clem/Mother: Lindsey Jones
Bud/Daisy/Pan/Doctor: Tim Kaniecki
Thomas Parker: Patrick Kelly
Meredith Parker: Dawn Schmid
Rick Taylor/Rev. Billy Hightower/Roy/Young Thomas: Michael A. Wells
Maggie/Ron Taylor/Young Meredith: Sara Rae Womack

Artistic Director: Gary F. Bell
Assistant Director: Robert M. Kapeller
Choreographer: Mike Hodges
Costume Designer: Cara Hoppes McCulley
Dance Captain: Sara Rae Womack
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Musical Director: Chris Petersen
Property Design: Justin Been, Gary F. Bell
Scenic Carpentry Assistance: Richard Brown, Doug Burge, Kathleen Dwyer, Cory Fraine, Melanie Kozak, Robert J. Lippert, Paul Troika, Kate Wilkerson
Scenic Designer: Robbert J. Lippert
Sound Designer: Justin Been
Stage Manager: Robert M. Kapeller

The Band
Bass: Michaela Kuba
Musical Director/Keyboard: Chris Petersen
Guitar: M. Joshua Ryan
Drums: Joe Winters


  1. I used your review in a roundup of other critical reviews of Bat Boy: