Bat Out Of Hell, The Musical plays comes to Manchester

Andrew Polec and the cast in rehearsal

Andrew Polec and the cast in rehearsal - Credit: Archant

The global premiere of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell, The Musical takes place at Manchester Opera House this month…and it’s going to be epic. Kate Houghton writes.

Andrew Polec

Andrew Polec - Credit: Archant

lmost everybody has some relationship with the soul-stirring music from the multi-million selling album Bat Out Of Hell, brought to us by the inimitable Meatloaf, who has been, to date, synonymous with the songs so many of us love. That could be about to change though, as the stage production brings us the music in the form it was written for – and it’s incredible.

Bat Out Of Hell, the album, sprang from a series of songs written by Jim Steinman from the late 1960’s to mid-1970’s, forming the basis for a theatrical production which he took into workshop in 1974. The show didn’t come to fruition, but after much work by both Steinman and Meatloaf, who met Steinman when auditioning for a role on Broadway, the music found its way onto an album, which was launched in 1977.

‘It was way ahead of its time,’ says David Sonenberg, the founder of DAS Communications, the company behind the launch of the album, when we meet at a workshop for the show in London. ‘If it had have been presented then [as a musical] people would have thought it insane, but the world’s caught up.’

It does seem like finally getting the songs on stage in a musical theatre format has been a long time coming – 40 years is a stretch by anybody’s standards - and I wonder if the team behind it have any fears about its reception from the legions of die-hard Meatloaf fans?

Christina Bennington and Andrew Polec

Christina Bennington and Andrew Polec - Credit: Archant

Sonenberg says: ‘We’re lucky we’ve been given a narrative, a road-map, that Jim had already written. The goal for us is for each song to make you feel the same way you felt when you first heard Meatloaf sing it. If we honour the songs we’re not robbing them of anything, but it’s an add-on.’

Jay Scheib, the award-winning theatre and opera director directing this show, adds: ‘It’s a huge honour and a big responsibility. We just have to commit to the madness of the work. Part of Jim’s genius is to jump in with us.’

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Steinman is heavily involved in the whole production, Skyping in each day from New York and watching – and contributing to – every step.

‘In developing this we’ve had to read the words and hear the music as if for the first time and get at the energy that launched it when it was first made,’ Scheib adds, ‘but keep enough space for those with high expectations to find footholds – people who come in with great expectations will find what they’re looking for.’

Scheib has a reputation for creating awe-inspiring productions that exceed anything that has gone before and we’re promised a stupendous set with plenty of breathtaking surprises and a 14-piece band that will have us rocking in our seats. It’s big too – the Opera House has removed the first six rows of seating to accommodate the stage.

Of course, while the music is capable of speaking for itself, and the producers have success after success to their names, it’s the cast that carry the torch for all the many millions of fans out there, and on their shoulders rests this musical’s success.

The lead role, Strat, has been won by a young actor, Andrew Polec, who from a career that so far took him no closer to Broadway than ‘off’ finds himself on the brink of stardom following an open casting in New York. Having witnessed him in action, I can safely predict you’ll be impressed. Very, very impressed. His happy, relaxed and modest demeanor off-stage changes like a switch has been flicked when he hits the boards, to an increasingly high-strung lad from the wrong side of the tracks heading inexorably to disaster – and oh, what a voice.

I asked some of the cast members how it felt to be involved in something both completely new and so well known. The consensus was that it was overwhelming but incredible, and Meatloaf himself had had some wise words of advice for Polec.

‘I’m not Meatloaf and it’s actually nothing to do with Meatloaf and he told me that the best way to do it was just to be myself. He instilled me with such a sense of confidence and calm; it’s just amazing to be part of something like this.’

I suspect fans of the music will be travelling from far and wide to witness this final act in Steinman’s original plan and, as one of them, I can’t wait.

Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell, The Musical plays at Manchester Opera House from 17 February to 8 April.

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