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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Bat Out Of Hell
Coliseum  Summer 2017; Dominion Theatre 2018

In the pattern of Mamma Mia and We Will Rock You, Jim Steinman's musical invents a skeletal plot to hang pre-existing songs on in this case Steinman's own songs for the classic 1970s Meat Loaf album and its two sequels (along with a couple of new songs). 

The result is nearly three hours of great rock music, with just enough in the way of story and characterisations to keep it from being pure concert. Accept the painful absence of Meat Loaf himself and you'll have a ball. 

The plot borrows a bit from We Will Rock You as a group of young people are outlaws in the realm of a repressive tyrant. 

The leader of the kids falls in love with the bad guy's daughter, and that's really all you need to know, the subsequent ups and downs of their adventure serving mainly as cues for such showstoppers as Paradise By The Dashboard Light, Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad and the title song. 

(And as at Mamma Mia you can tell the real fans in the audience by the way they spot a song cue coming and begin applauding even before the music starts.) 

It will come to little surprise to Steinman and Meat Loaf fans that the songs fit very well into a theatrical setting. Paradise is practically a three-act drama in itself, and the others are written for clearly definable emotional situations. 

Indeed their specificity sometimes forces Steinman the author to shoehorn them forcefully into the plot. Paradise gets in as the villain and his estranged wife remember back when they actually liked each other, while Two Out Of Three is given to a secondary couple whose relationship is then never followed up on. 

The unhappy memories of Objects In The Rear View Mirror don't have much to do with the song's placement in the show (when the gang think the hero is dead), though the emotion is right. 

And something similar happens to the title song, which is here the hero's invitation to the girl to run away with him rather than a warning he'll desert her.

But it hardly matters. They're great songs, they rock and rock hard, the amplifiers are set at ear-damage decibels, and the leads are all attractive. 

The very conventional roles of the young lovers give Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington little opportunity (or need) to develop depth characterisations or even act much. What is needed, and what they deliver with unflagging energy, is singing with all-stops-out passion.

Ironically, it is the girl's parents who are the more complex characters, giving the performers more to work with. Rob Fowler makes the baddie more tormented than villainous, even managing to elicit some sympathy, while Sharon Sexton invests his wife with both the emotional conflict of divided loyalties and a sense of comic irony. 

Much of the show is performed on two levels, sometimes simultaneously, with onstage cameramen broadcasting video close-ups to large screens. Choreographer Emma Portner takes a while to find her feet (as it were), the dances only really coming alive in the late-in-the-show You Took The Words and Dead Ringer For Love. 

You don't have to have been listening to these songs for forty years to appreciate their energy and frequently startlingly evocative poetry. You just have to be prepared to rock.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Bat Out Of Hell - London Coliseum 2017   

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