"Bat Boy: The Musical" may not be what one expects — there's not a baseball in sight— but it's still a must-see show in all aspects, captivating Colonial Players audiences since it opened in March.
Set to a melodic pop-rock score, this tabloid tale — direct from Weekly World News — is set in a small West Virginia town where a half-human, half-bat mutant is found in a cave by the spelunking Taylor siblings, Ron, Rick and Ruthie.
The tale unfolds as Bat Boy learns to behave most civilly toward towns folk — who respond less civilly toward him.
The Colonial Players production of "Bat Boy" compares well to another renowned version of the show: the 2001 off-Broadway run at Union Square Theater, which captured several off-Broadway musical awards.
Catching that show was a highlight of a New York City theater tour arranged for Anne Arundel Community College students and guests by performing arts department chair Robert Kauffman.
Similarly, everything works in Colonial Players' production. The offbeat musical retains its shock value with discussions of violence, sex and drugs. In Colonial's intimate in-the-round setting, the audience is brought inside Bat Boy's mystical cave, as well as inside more conventional locations.
Excellence results from the collaboration of skilled off- and on-stage teams. Serving as set designer, Colonial President Terry Averill has created a magical bat cave, complete with glittering stalactites. Lighting designer Frank Florentine uses state-of-the-art LED lights and color to create exotic scenes.
Makeup designer Eddie Hall creates a singularly appropriate image for Bat Boy that includes seamlessly blended bat ears, and Kathryn Ehmann and Associates created and fitted cosmetic dental fangs. Completing the illusion for the entire cast, costume designer Elizabeth Chapman created authentic garb.
Director Beverly Hill van Joolen gathered a dream cast and inspired all to deliver excellence. In an astonishing Colonial Players debut, music director David Merrill adds infectious vitality to this production. And choreographer Jamie Erin Miller creates lively down-home country dances as well as a memorable Broadway high-kicking line.
Among the most outstanding in a truly stellar cast is Wendy Baird, who plays Meredith Parker, wife of the town's veterinarian, whose home Bat Boy is taken to from his cave.
Determined to teach this creature to become part of civilized society, Meredith is devoted to this neglected boy, whom she calls Edgar. The scene in which Edgar responds rhythmically to her singing is particularly touching. Baird does full justice to two of the best songs of the show: "A Home for You" and "Three-Bedroom Home."
Alicia Sweeney is powerful as the concerned mother, Mrs. Taylor, summoning hilarious anger to enliven the action.
Taylor's son Rick is dynamically played by Nathan Bowen, who adds needed grit and vigor. Meredith's daughter Shelley is beautifully sung and played by Paige Miller. Praise is also due to Debbie Barber-Eaton for her expressive singing in her sassy, dynamic portrayal of Mayor Maggie.
Yet unquestionably, "Bat Boy" soars at Colonial Players because of the phenomenal, seemingly superhuman performance of Ron Giddings as the title character.
Giddings makes the impossible ordinary as he hops about like an animal or hangs upside down while flawlessly delivering a song (a feat I do not recall Deven May executing off-Broadway as Bat Boy in 2001). Here, stellar vocal artistry is matched with heartfelt expression, as Edgar transforms from beast to cultured young gentleman.
Giddings' Bat Boy can be described as bloody attractive. This creature is worthy of Annapolis folk hero status — in addition to being nominated for every acting award coming his way.
"Bat Boy" continues Thursdays through Sundays at 108 East St., Annapolis, through April 19. For ticket information and showtimes, go to thecolonialplayers.org or call 410-268-7373.