Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.


Great Lakes' production takes flight

WHILE THE NATIONAL focus has been on transitory issues like health care and unemployment, the local buzz has centered on something far more significant: accusations that Great Lakes Theater Festival has betrayed the muses by abandoning its classical mandate.

This controversy has arisen over the company's production of Bat Boy: The Musical, which uses an infamous piece of yellow journalism about the discovery of half-man/half-bat creature. To paraphrase the great Groucho Marx, "We retaliate with horse feathers."

What this work amply demonstrates is that an evening of showbiz snap-crackle-pop will engender far more contented theater devotees than a pound of soggy Macbeths. Persistent rumor has it that this wink-laden spoof of B-movies, tabloids and other musicals is the intoxicated lark of boozing creators Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming and Laurence O'Keefe.

It is the archetype of a species of theater pieces that refuse to face life head on — a world filtered through satire. When the bat boy, in true My Fair Lady fashion, is transformed from squeaking part-rodent to Oxford scholar, the show reaches the smart-ass sheen of top-of-the-line Saturday Night Live.

O'Keefe's score has the pleasing bravado of good commercial jingles. The songs, which range from samba to rap, work well in the fractured context of the musical, but they would die of malnutrition removed from the glib buffoonery. The evening makes one yearn for spoofs of yore, like L'il Abner and Little Me, in which zaniness gives way to indelible melody.

If there's anything classic about Great Lakes' Bat Boy, it is the production values, which make splendid use of the renovated Hanna Theatre. Set designer Jeff Herrmann's pixilated view of a West Virginia full of prostrate cows wouldn't be inappropriate in an exhibition of Dali paintings. Diane Ferry Williams' rambunctious lighting effects are an art show unto themselves.

Director Victoria Bussert's penchant for playful theatrical raunch is perfectly mated to material that lives and dies by the chuckle. However, the element that truly underlines Great Lakes' devotion to past glories is the quicksilver choreography of Martin Cespedes. In the manner of the late American Dance Theatre, his work is a textbook of 20th-century dance styles. Cespedes uses everything from Fosse-style tangos to Pilobolus-like animal imagery. As always, his greatest talent is for taking a troupe of Shakespearean actors and transforming them into hoofers.

The cast takes antics that could easily grace the pages of Mad magazine and imbues them with Noel Coward-like élan. In the title role, Mitch McCarrell pulls off the feat of not only looking great in leather pants, but also bringing humanity and warmth to a cardboard joke.

If Great Lakes can render meringue with such flair, the company's revitalization will go well beyond the splendor of its new home at the restored Hanna.

[email protected]

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

More by Keith A. Joseph

Read the Digital Print Issue

January 5, 2022

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.


Staff Pick Events

  • Viva MOMIX @ Ohio Theatre

    • Sat., Feb. 5

© 2022 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.

Website powered by Foundation