REVIEW: The Bonstelle brings the cult hit ‘Bat Boy: The Musical’ to Motown

Review by Patty Nolan, The Examiner

Click HERE to read the review on the Examiner’s website.

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Thomas Parker (Jackson McLaskey, center) and Bat Boy (Nicholas Yocum, right) Credit: Kevin Replinger

Thomas Parker (Jackson McLaskey, center) and Bat Boy (Nicholas Yocum, right)
Credit: Kevin Replinger

“Bat Boy: The Musical,” by Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming, and Laurence O’Keefe, is the campy cult hit that doesn’t lend itself to easy handles. Not unlike “Little Shop of Horrors,” this show has terrific music, an unlikely romance, and a primary character with a thirst for fresh blood. Did we mention a few grisly murders thrown in for good measure?

But “Bat Boy” is in a class by itself – a send up of the classic tabloid story from Weekly World News about the adventures of a half-bat/half-boy creature. And it is a riveting, riotous piece of fun from start to finish. We really can’t recommend it enough.

The Bonstelle Theatre company, under the direction of Michael J. Barnes, finds exactly the right tone to pull off a dark comedy like this one. And that tone is sincerity. The more the characters play it straight, the funnier the situations become for the audience. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that many of the characters are played by cross-dressing actors. Women play boys, sheriffs, and gospel-song-slinging revival-style preachers (shout out to Bridgette Jordan) and men play crazy cat ladies and white trash mommas. And then there’s the Bat Boy.

Nicholas Yocum is exceptional in the role of the feral creature found in a cave in West Virginia and brought home to live with the family of local veterinarian, Dr. Parker (the always brilliant Jackson McLaskey), his wife Meredith (the gifted Kelly Robinson) and daughter Shelley (the perfect ingenue, Britta Peele). Something about the Bat Boy brings out all of Meredith’s maternal instincts. She names him Edgar, and in a series of delightful scenes we watch as he progresses from a few rudimentary words to a mastery of the language that rivals the sophisticates of Downton Abbey.

Unfortunately, before he was “tamed,” Edgar bit one of children who dragged him out of his cave at the opening of the show. Little Ruthie doesn’t seem to be healing quite right. And the good God-fearing, blood-thirsty town folk begin to suspect that Edgar is also behind recent losses in their cattle herd. Meanwhile, Edgar, well … let’s just say he has his own quirky appetite to contend with.

Will the town folk give Edgar a chance? Will any cattle make it to the end of the play? What is the secret to Bat Boy’s unholy origins? And will we all learn to embrace our inner Bat Boy? You simply have to see this zany musical to discover how it all turns out.

The opening night crowd at the Bonstelle hooted and cheered throughout the show – and it’s easy to understand why this play has its own cult following. We could cheerfully go see it again before it closes. But perhaps the best point of view on this show comes right from the spotlight.

Nicholas Yocum, who has appeared in several Bonstelle productions, was nice enough to answer our questions about his acting career and what it’s like to play Bat Boy.

Q. I’ve seen you in a number of shows – including at Stagecrafters – how long have you been performing?

Nicholas: I’ve been acting since I was 8-years-old. That would make it fifteen years. I grew up doing a lot of community theatre, especially at Stagecrafters – that place will always hold a special place in my heart. I also did a couple of shows with Michigan Opera Theatre.

Q. What’s your favorite thing about this role? Can you compare it to anything else you’ve done?

Nicholas: I love everything about this role. I get quite a workout every night, physically and vocally. It’s unlike anything else I’ve ever done for that exact reason. I’m not sure that there are a lot of roles around that push your body to its limits as well as challenge you with a high-range, unrelenting vocal part. But I do love every second of performing it, especially since I have so many friends up on stage with me. If I had to choose one aspect of the role, it would have to be the blood. It’s surprisingly tasty!

Q. What should we tell people who aren’t familiar with the play that will make them want to see it?

Nicholas: Tell people that this play has anything and everything, literally, that musical theatre has to offer. Comedy, tragedy, parody, romance, thrills, and of course an amazing score. And they will get it all in two hours!

That sums it up pretty nicely. We’d add in that it also has an outstanding cast, orchestra and crew including:

Jacqueline Fenton (Allen Park, MI) EnsembleIvy Haralson (Belleville, MI) Ron Taylor,Bridgette Jordan (Southfield, MI) Reverend Billy HightowerSara Kline (Madison Heights, MI)Sheriff Reynolds ,Alyssa Lucas (Garden City, MI) MaggieColin Mallory (East Lansing, MI)Pan/DaisyJackson McLaskey (Mt. Clemens, MI) Dr. Thomas ParkerMatthew Miazgowicz(Dearborn, MI) LorraineShane Nelson (Windsor, ON) BudBritta Peele (Harrison Township, MI)Shelley ParkerJonathan Pigott (Wyandotte, MI) EnsembleKelly Robinson (Royal Oak, MI)Meredith ParkerLuke Rose (Harrison Township, MI) Rick TaylorAnthony Scamihorn(Marshall, MI) Mrs. TaylorAnna Seibert (Detroit, MI) Ruthie Taylor/NedNicholas Yocum(Royal Oak, MI) Bat Boy/Edgar.

And on the production side:

Michael J. Barnes (Director), Julia Moriarty (Assistant Director), Jeffrey Michael Rebudal(Choreographer), Daniel Greig (Music Director), Devon L. Hansen (Conductor/Piano), Shane McKeever (Second Keyboard), John Gallo (Guitar), Josh Bartolomeo (Bass), David Zwolinski (Percussion), Meghan Lynch (Stage Manager), Curtis Green (Scenic Designer),Anthony Karpinski (Technical Director and Properties Master), Mary Gietzen (Costume Designer), Brian M. Scruggs (Lighting Designer), Tyler Ezell (Sound Designer), ShanandAlexandra Stewart (Publicity Manager).

You should definitely go see the Bonstelle strut their stuff, but you have to act quickly, because it only runs two weekends.

“Bat Boy” appears at the Bonstelle Theatre through April 21, 2013. Show times are at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $20-$25 and are available by calling (313) 577-2960, visiting the website, or stopping by the Wayne State University Theatres Box Office located at 4743 Cass Avenue on the corner of Hancock, inside the Hilberry Theatre. The Bonstelle Theatre is located at 3424 Woodward Avenue, one block south of Mack Avenue at Eliot.

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