Bat Boy: The Musical Delivers Camp & Advocacy - TribPapers

Bat Boy: The Musical Delivers Camp & Advocacy

Photo by Eli Cunningham.

Asheville – Asheville Community Theatre’s Bat Boy: The Musical hilariously goes spelunking into satire while cleverly illuminating deeper themes of prejudice.

One of the most anticipated movies in recent years is Barbie. Why is a film about a plastic doll so popular? I believe it’s the “camp” aesthetic. We all know how ridiculous the premise is, and the creators took it as far as they could go.

What is unexpected is that Barbie is also a story of female empowerment. When done well, satire and camp can covertly bring to light perspectives and messages we weren’t anticipating.

Bat Boy: The Musical is one of the most well-crafted examples of this I’ve seen in years.

The premise, like the Barbie movie, is paper thin. The 1997 rock musical is based on a story from a tabloid magazine outrageously proclaiming the existence of a boy who is half human, half bat.

If that were all there was to this show, the comedic precision and vast musical skills of the actors would make it an incredible, must-see production. It is also so much more than catchy, hilarious songs. Delightful, self-referential humor, and a deftly constructed mystery.

Stephanie Hickling Beckman wanted to direct this unusual show because, at its core, it lines up perfectly with the mission of her theatrical company, Different Strokes Performing Arts Collective. Bat Boy is firmly rooted in the intersection of art and activism.

Our society claims to embrace and celebrate the differences and unique qualities of the individual while simultaneously ostracizing and oppressing those who stand out in the crowd.

The audience for Bat Boy is an integral part of the production. We played the part of “society” perfectly. Rooting for the assimilation of this distinctive human/bat hybrid as he attempts to belong to the group.

That scenario could make for an emotionally heavy or even draining experience, and yet… it is all delivered with that tongue-in-cheek hilarity, giving it the exuberance of a wacky romp.

In fact, to the delight of the cast and crew, the audience was incredibly vocal. In response to that, Hickling-Beckman said, “In the spirit of Rocky Horror Picture Show, we encourage the audience to have a good time and react to the story as if they were a part of the play—gasp, scream, even sing along if they want to.  We encourage audience participation and look forward to it.”

Kristi DeVille’s sparkling choreography was a brilliant nod to 40s and 50s musicals and was whimsically punctuated with Ida Bostian’s captivating costuming.

The lighting design, from the masterfully skilled Abby Auman, gave us unexpected mood changes that worked in beautiful cooperation with the backdrop of one of Jillian Summers’ inventive and incredible sets. In fact, the set reveal was met with thunderous applause at the “friends and family” performance I attended.

Zoe Zelonky, as the titular character, was mesmerizing. Bringing to life the physicality of someone who has been without human contact and is “part bat” was, I’m certain, no easy task. She embodied Bat Boy with a gentleness and innate absurdity that were reminiscent of legends like Buster Keaton and Dudley Moore.

Bringing an absurdity that cannot be quantified, Jessica Gift and Alec Shull took on multiple roles each and inserted a new “laugh until you can’t breathe” wackiness with each part.

Playing the quintessential family at the core of this story are Meg Hale Brunton, Mark Jones, and Grace Geoffrey.

As with the rest of the play, these three are much more than the 1950s small-town, picture-perfect group they represent. As the mysterious layers are revealed through sardonic jabs, barbs, and gorgeously executed dark songs, we discover both the heart and the horrors of their lives.

The entire ensemble cast is a delight to watch and hear. This group of people and the obvious trust they have for each other make this production one that would certainly be worth seeing more than once.

I’m already looking forward to catching another performance!

Bat Boy: The Musical is at Asheville Community Theatre from July 21–August 6, with shows on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.