'Bat Boy: The Musical' Inspired By '90s Tabloid Headline
Musical from 1997 proves relevant today
Weekly World News was notorious for its outlandish covers that caught your eye at the grocery checkout. One of those headline stories featuring a half-bat, half-boy inspired the musical “Bat Boy,” which has a new production running at OB Playhouse.
Fake news is nothing new, but there used to be a time when it seemed to know that its place was to simply distract us in line at the supermarket with headlines like, “Bat Child Found in Cave.”
"They found him, and then he escaped, and he was roaming around the hills and the mountains," Michael Mizerany recalled. "And then he’d be seen, ‘Oh my God, Bat Boy was seen, Bat Boy kidnapped a baby. Oh, Bat Boy was at the grocery store.'"
That tabloid story soon evolved into an urban legend. But it was the absurd photo of that deformed screaming child with giant eyes that could see in the dark and ears that were better than radar that Cody Ingram remembers.
"That morphed kid, that face still haunts me to this day," Ingram said.
Ingram now plays that kid in “Bat Boy: The Musical” and Mizerany is directing. The musical was written in 1997 about five years after Weekly World News broke its patently fabricated story. But the irony is that this fake news story inspired a musical that gets to some very real truths.
"Well, for the authors, I think it was their chance to address racism," Mizerany said.
Actor Cody Ingram agreed.
"It is a commentary on humanity, a commentary on don’t judge a book by its cover because everyone has something to contribute to society no matter what their background or where they come from or the color of their skin. So it’s a commentary on racism," Ingram said.
Which is timely at this point in America’s turbulent social history.
"This is a very good way to hold up a mirror to society and say we need to come together and not have our differences divide us because we are only going to get through this as one strong unit," Ingram said.
That timeliness made it appealing to Mizerany.
"The climate now is that people are being targeted because of the color of their skin and because of how they look and this is definitely that," Mizerany explained. "It’s someone who’s come over from a different place, a cave, but a different place, an immigrant, and looks a certain way and even though he’s adapted how they speak and how they walk and how they talk and their ideas, he’s still shunned at the end because of how he looks, and I think that’s very relevant right now."
The play is a rollercoaster ride of styles and tones. There are Gothic horror elements, parodies of Broadway musicals, and allusions to Greek tragedy and Shakespeare. But the creators of the musical — Laurence O'Keefe, Brian Flemming and Keythe Farley — understand that the actors need to ground the story by creating real characters.
"In the first part of the script, it says that this is not a comedy for us the actors. You are not supposed to play this as a parody you are supposed to play this as real people," Ingram said.
That’s an added challenge for Ingram who plays Edgar, the Bat Boy. He has run around on all fours with bat ears and fangs and limited vocabulary for much of the first act. Tara Sampson plays Shelley, his unlikely love interest.
"He is an innocent, very naïve boy and so he’s my age but he grew up in a cave so he developmentally very far behind where I am at but in his heart, he is very good and true and just trying to fit in and have family of his own," Sampson said.
And that’s the tragedy that lies at the heart of this sweetly mixed-up musical. Edgar just desperately wants to fit in.
"I get more and more human," Ingram said. The townsfolk are supposed to accept me because all I want is to be is accepted by them but they become more and more monstrous and so it’s that interesting dichotomy of the person who is technically the most monstrous or looks the most monstrous is actually the most human and the people who are the most human or look the most human are actually the monsters."
You don’t expect to find a soulful tragedy that gets to real issues of race and tolerance to come from the headlines of a 1990s tabloid. But then maybe that’s just one of the shocking truths contained in “Bat Boy The Musical.” You can’t judge a book, or a tabloid, by its cover.