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Photograph by David Allen
HEADLINE FODDER: Robbie Brewer dominates the front page in 'Bat Boy, the Musical.'

Batting Around

Foothill's 'Bat Boy, the Musical' is worth hanging around for

By Steve Palopoli

WE ALL know the headlines. How he was first found in a West Virginia cave in 1992. His trouble with the law. His endorsement of Al Gore for president. His run for California governor in 2003.

But who is the real Bat Boy?

Foothill Music Theatre is the latest group to attempt to answer that question, with its new production of Bat Boy, the Musical. Written by Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming, with songs by Laurence O'Keefe, Bat Boy takes perhaps the most beloved character to issue from the crack reporting at the Weekly World News and spins it into postmodern superkitsch of the highest order.

Originally coming out of Tim Robbins' Actors Gang Theatre in 1997, and then making its cultural mark off-Broadway, the musical is designed to create a quirky but epic feel with a very compact setup, making it ideal for a small theater group. Director Jay Manley and musical director Spencer Williams have cleverly milked this premise for all it's worth, even turning the switching of actors' double roles into visual gags and poking fun at its own set design in silhouette.

Ironically, the smashing success of this production may have been determined by a last-minute twist of fate that must have seemed disastrous at the time. In February, announced lead Andrew Ceglio had to pull out of the production for personal reasons, and Bay Area actor Robert Brewer stepped into the role of Bat Boy. Nothing against Ceglio, but Brewer is simply incredible.

As the initially feral but increasingly cultured fanged misfit, he makes this production an absolute must-see. Whether hunched on the ground making animal sounds, or trading musical lines with other characters like "Let me fix your taxes, I am a CPA," his mixture of wacky, unrestrained joie de vivre and reptilian recoil at the intolerance of others evokes a John Malkovich quality that is perfect for this role.

The story begins in Hope Falls, W.V., when some young spelunkers discover Bat Boy in a cave. The sheriff (Todd Wright) takes him to the home of the local vet, Dr. Parker (Tim Reynolds), where he is adopted by Parker's wife, Meredith (Lisa-Marie Newton) and their daughter Shelley (Kateri McRae). He quickly goes from hissing in a cage to emotional bonding to BBC language tapes.

But meanwhile the townsfolk think Bat Boy is behind the disappearance of their cattle, and they want him taken out for his attack on Ruthie (Monique Hafen). That last part is a clever inside joke in itself, since one of the most famous Weekly World News stories about Bat Boy was his attack on a fifth-grader in Florida.

Of course, it all builds to a frenzied chaos, and the musical does have a message, repeated in a recurring song—"Love your Bat Boy," that is, whatever monstrous part you can't accept. OK, that's not going to set the world on fire, but shouldn't a musical ripped from the pages of the Weekly World News be more about the medium than the message? The talented cast and laugh-out-loud humor are what make this so much fun.

The stylistic shadings by scenic designer Bruce McLeod and costume designer Julie Engelbrecht are interesting; there's a drab sort of retrogrunge feel that hearkens back to the early '90s when the famous "Bat Boy Found in Cave" cover first stormed newsstands, mixed with a colorful neon that emphasizes the comic-book aspects. Like almost every other aspect of FMT's production,  it's the best way an audience could ask for to love a Bat Boy.  

BAT BOY, THE MUSICAL, a Foothill Musical Theatre production, plays Thursday–Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm (March 14 and 21) and 8pm and Sunday at 2pm through March 22  at the Lohman Theatre at Foothill College in Los Alto Hills. Tickets are $18–$26. (650.949.7360)


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