REVIEW: Bat Out of Hell - Original London Cast
Released in Canada last year to coincide with the show’s Toronto opening and only now getting a full UK release several months into the second London run, the original cast recording of Bat out of Hell: the Musical turns out to sound exactly the way you’d expect it to if, like me, you’ve yet to see the show. At twenty-one (long) tracks over two discs, the album appears to give a reasonably complete account of the show’s principal musical numbers, most of which have been lifted from Meat Loaf’s Bat out of Hell trilogy. Either you like Jim Steinman’s floridly grandiose, quasi-operatic brand of rock or you don’t; I do, and I was prepared to love this album, but I never quite got there. It’s never bad, but it’s also never surprising: divorced from the show’s context, you’re left with a selection of mostly familiar songs presented in arrangements which never stray too far from Steinman’s trademark sound, performed by a superb band and a cast of apparently iron-lunged singers, none of whom are as distinctive or as interesting as the people who performed the songs on the original recordings.
That’s a common enough fault in jukebox musicals, and it’s probably churlish to expect this one to be any different. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with any of the performances on this album. These are fine singers, and they are all more than equal to the formidable demands of these songs. Christina Bennington gives Heaven Can Wait the full power-ballad treatment, and it’s undeniably effective; Rob Fowler and Sharon Sexton somehow manage to find a three-act play in What Part of My Body Hurts the Most, and their vocals throughout are impressive. Dom Hartley-Harris and Danielle Steers have a great time tearing their way through Dead Ringer for Love. Not Allowed to Love, the most “musical theatre” thing on the recording, is a welcome change of pace; it’s a shame, though, that Aran MacRae’s performance is so bland. The title song is a nine-minute extravaganza which probably makes more sense accompanied by the visuals in the theatre; elsewhere, too many numbers begin in a whisper and gradually grow to a roar, and after the fifth or sixth great big shattering climax the law of diminishing returns begins to kick in. The chorus singing is impeccable, the lyrics come across clearly throughout, it’s an extremely well-made recording – but these songs are supposed to set your pulse racing, and here they just don’t.
The problem, unfortunately, is that there’s simply not much sense on this recording of why these songs demanded to be put together into a musical – which is surprising given the inherent theatricality of Steinman’s sound. Some of the album is very enjoyable, and it’s all slickly performed and produced. In the end, though, you’re left with the impression that the motivating force behind the project was less about taking inspiration from a collection of classic rock songs, and more simply about extending a brand.
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Bat Out of Hell - 2017 Original London Cast Jim Steinman Meat Loaf Rob Fowler Christina Bennington Sharon Sexton Aran MacRae Danielle Steers Dom Hartley-Harris Not Allowed To Love (2) Bat Out of Hell (2) Heaven Can Wait What Part of My Body Hurts the Most Dead Ringer for Love Toggle Additional (11)