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THEATER REVIEW Batboy the Musical
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2016-06-22

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Playwrights: Keythe Farley & Brian Flemming ( book ), Laurence O'Keefe ( lyrics ) At: Griffin Theatre at The Den, 1329 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets: 866-811-4111; GriffinTheatre.com; $39.50. Runs through: July 24

Batboy the Musical has nothing to do with baseball or Bruce Wayne's childhood. It has everything to do with a guilty pleasure of a show and a sensational lead performance. Hamilton can wait—see Batboy now.

Some 20 years ago, a supermarket tabloid newspaper reported discovery of a teenager who was half-human and half blood-sucking vampire bat. This musical is a high-energy riff on that actual story, and also pays homage to horror movies and creature features. It centers on a wild adolescent boy with bat ears and fangs living in a cave near small-town Hope Falls, West Virginia. Adopted by the Parkers ( Dr. Parker is the town vet ) and called Edgar, he's quickly taught his human side, emerging as a British gentleman and a CPA ( ! ). But the townsfolk hate him because ( a ) he's not like them, ( b ) they think he's killing their cattle and ( c ) Edgar and pretty Shelly Parker get a thing going.

This production does just about everything right, beginning with a dazzling cast featuring incredibly lithe Henry McGinnisss in the title role. With his expressive face and lilting tenor voice, McGinniss is funny or serious by turns and always charming. He also spends time nearly naked in a cage, if that's your thing!

McGinnisss alone is worth the price of admission, but he's backed by a strong nine-person ensemble. Anne Sheridan Smith ( Mrs. Parker ), Tiffany Tatreau ( teenage Shelly Parker ), Matt W. Miles ( Dr. Parker, the show's villain ), Ron King ( Rev. Hightower ) and Jordan Dell Harris ( a decidedly ambisexual Pan, the forest god ) each takes center stage in a big number served up in tasty fashion. It's a great score, too, ranging from gospel shout to rap to rock to ballad to creepy horror music, every number well-sung under musical director Charlotte Rivard-Hoster and her five-piece band.

The 3/4 round staging utilizes a relatively simple scenic design by Jeff Kmiec and Greg Pinsoneault, with lots of barn-wood beams suggesting the rural setting. Brandon Wardell is the capable lighting designer and costumes are by Izumi Inaba. Good puppetry by Lolly Extract and Amber Marsh . Lively choreography by Rhett Guter and Amanda Kroiss.

Batboy veers wildly between burlesque of the horror genre and fidelity to its clichés, and the show's authors and director Scott Weinstein strike just the right balance between the shifting tones. There's a surprise twist, too, deep in Act II which I didn't expect. Of course, things rarely end well for the monsters in those classic horror movies, so be prepared. But on the way you'll have a helluva lot of fun.

Griffin Theatre is raising funds for a permanent home in Andersonville. An extended success with Batboy The Musical could help that campaign a lot!


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