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A review of Bat Boy: The Musical

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Bat Boy: The Musical is back at Actor's Theatre with many of the same faces that launched the company's Stonewall Street facility five years ago -- and Billy Ensley is once again in the director's chair. He attacks the storyline, inspired by the sensationalist wags at Weekly World News, with fresh gusto, leaning a little less on its country bumpkin flavorings and a lot more on its B horror movie bloodlines.

As a result, Dennis Delamar gives a less drunken, more crazily unhinged account of Dr. Parker as his jealousy of the Bat Boy plunges him into ever-eviller machinations of murder and scapegoating (scapebatting?). His victims' outcries resound through the theater with epic terror, thanks to Chip Decker's fastidious sound design. Corey Mitchell, sporting a bouffant that barely allows him to enter the building, once again electrifies as the gospel healer, Reverend Hightower, and he adds extra sass to his portrayal of Mrs. Taylor, mother of the three doomed sibs who discover Bat Boy in a West Virginia cave.

The descent into the cave on ropes instantly gives this production a livelier feel. Technically, the remount eclipses the 2004 production, but Ensley doesn't discard the cheesiness of the original. Town meetings are as sloppy, and Candace Neal brings much of the same banshee energy to the stage as Johanna Jowett did, changing from the mayor to a boorish Taylor sib behind the flimsy cover of a centerstage lectern.

Bat Boy 2009 is more fun-loving and stylized than ever, capped by the glorious incestuous wedding of Bat Boy and Shelley Parker, the doc's pubescent daughter, presided over by Patrick Ratchford, reprising his outrÈ outing as Pan, the hirsute woodland god. Ratchford moonlights again as the Sheriff, but I believe the paunch is new.

With Jon Parker Douglas taking on the title role in place of Bob Walker, the creepy, rodent, and vampire aspects of the blood-drinking bat gain an eerie physicality that helps steer this production into ghoulish territory. Yet Douglas sings as well as anybody, and his abortive evolution into normality, twisted by the intervention of BBC language tapes, is effectively nuanced -- and instantly reversible. Jes Dugger has a seedier take on Shelley than Ashley Dove did, ultimately a plus.

Liz Hyde reprises her role as Mrs. Taylor, the doc's wife who takes on the onus of educating the endangered foundling while hubby forages for blood. There's a puzzling mystery to this frigid, bleeding heart mamma, until Doc Taylor leads us on a fantastical flashback and all her secrets are revealed.

Marty Gregory leads a tight little band in the wings that can sound rather large when the occasion demands. It does when Ensley layers on the hokey choreography -- at the town meeting, at the religious revival, and in the woods, where animals, puppets, and the newlywed Bat Boy copulate with cartoon merriment.

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