The early 1990’s were a very strange time for every industry. Politics were being taken over by the fresh-faced Clintons, the rise in speculation that led to the dot com bubble was just beginning, and supermarket checkout lines still sold Weekly World News – a publication that published news in only the loosest sense of the word. On June 23, 1992, they ran a front page cover story with the headline “Bat Child Found In Cave!” On the inside pages, a magnificent description of a tragic life unfolded. Since his “discovery” in the West Virginian “Hellhole Cave,” Weekly World News reported on his life. Now in his thirties, Bat Boy has done a lot in the past two decades. He ran in the 2003 California gubernatorial election, supported Obama in 2008, opposed Proposition 8, and served his country in the armed forces.
Since its beginning, the story of Bat Boy has been interesting to a wide audience, which is precisely why Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming, and Laurence O’Keefe developed Bat Boy: The Musical, which premiered at an experimental theater in 1997 and had productions Off-Broadway and in the West End. Most recently, however, The Celebration Company at The Station Theatre in Urbana has been rehearsing a production, with direction from Mikel Matthews, Jr. The play is its own take on the Bat Boy story, focusing on the family that adopted Bat Boy, the townspeople who struggle to accept him, and the tragedy that surrounds the town of Hope Falls, West Virginia.
Matthews (pictured right), who has directed ten shows at the Station and performed in seven, first looked at this musical years ago. He said “they were looking for a fun musical that was a bit edgy for the summer and Bat Boy was a great fit.” Edgy might be a little bit of an understatement, though, since this show covers topics like abuse, xenophobia, Christian morality, sex, and no less than four separate human rights violations. “It’s also very funny,” says Matthews, “And tragic. It’s both.”
Walking into the Station during a rehearsal was a surreal experience. Evan Seggebruch, who had shaved his head to more accurately portray the titular Bat Boy, was screeching at the top of his lungs while laying on the floor. Shortly after, Marc Wilson, who was playing a country teenager, walked out from behind a mostly built wall and began rapping about violently murdering the Bat Boy and getting laid. Clearly, this show is unlike most shows.
The cast and crew all seemed eager and excited to produce this show, though. The serious work-oriented atmosphere of rehearsal was paired with a noticeable drive from everyone to get this show right. Matthews noted that this production was a challenge, which might explain the cast’s seriousness. “Making the townspeople really funny while the family is more serious,” Matthews said, “means a lot of really specific choices have to be made to make them feel like they belong in the same show.” In addition to the artistic challenges coming from the script, there were also a few technical challenges with this show. Matthews mentioned the quick rehearsal schedule, only having 5 weeks from the first rehearsal to opening night.
It’s clear that the cast and crew were willing to take on this challenge with each other from speaking to any of them. Part of the reason for is due to the large overlap from the recent production of American Idiot by Twin City Theatre Company. Kimmy Schofield, who plays the matriarchal lead Meredith Parker, pointed this out. Since just under a third of the actors and all of the directors were involved with American Idiot, said that this was “definitely a bonus in feeling comfortable doing a new show.” (She did mention the memorable challenge of that as well, since she dropped lines from that show “far too often” into rehearsals.)
Seggebruch was also involved in American Idiot. He brought up a few interesting moments from throughout the past few weeks. While he personally struggled with “learning to walk around the set and up stairs on all fours,” he did make it seem that some of the challenges were a pleasure to overcome. When discussing a certain song, he said that “the dance break is hilarious and we could hardly stop laughing getting through it.” Perhaps the biggest challenge – a point that both he and Schofield brought up – was the surprising complexity of their characters and the experience of navigating emotional depth within a dark comedy.
The play promises to be a weird adventure through a world that began as a hilariously unbelievable tabloid headline. With emotional depth coming out among an outlandish plot, Bat Boy is a show that stands in a class that’s a little weirder — in the best way possible — than what many theatre patrons are familiar with.
Bat Boy: The Musical opens tomorrow, Thursday,
August July 14th at the Station Theater and will run until August 6. Performances are at 8:00, Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets are available now and are $10 for Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday showings. Friday and Saturday tickets are $15 and they can be reserved on the Station Theater’s website or by calling the ticket office at (217) 384-4000.