If there’s one thing that Bat Boy: The Musical director Steven Royal wants to make clear about the latest 1st Stage production is that people shouldn’t be expecting a story similar to Damn Yankees.
“The number of people who think this is a story about baseball is scary,” he says. “In fact, a number of things come to mind when people hear the title, and it takes a while for them to get to what it’s really about.”
Bat Boy: The Musical is actually based on a story that ran in a tabloid—The Weekly World News—back in 1992, which profiled a half-boy, half-bat supposedly discovered in a West Virginia cave. The absurdity of the story inspired writers Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming to team with composer/lyricist Laurence O’Keefe to create a musical comedy.
“I grew up loving the music, and it was one of those first sort of irrelevant musicals and I loved how it didn’t take itself too seriously,” Royal says. “There was a message, but it wasn’t too heavy handed. It was so funny with so many great jokes in it and so many funny parallels that it brings to life that make people look at something a little differently.”
When the production rights for the musical were first released, Royal was a freshman at the North Carolina School of the Arts and had the chance to design sets for the school’s performance of it. A few years later, he did another student production, assisting the director.
“I love it for so many reasons—the music, the story, the fact that it’s so funny but has such a tragic side to it,” he says. “When 1st Stage asked me to direct this production, I knew I had to do it and that it would be a fun project.”
Royal is well known in DC for designing and directing, working on productions at 1st Stage such as Parfumerie, Almost, Maine, Side Man, Suite Surrender, Altar Boyz, Blithe Spirit, The Pitmen Painters, and Noises Off.
“This is the biggest production 1st Stage has ever done and it’s been really exciting to see this level of production,” he says. “I’ve done a lot of shows here and this is definitely the most impressive work I have seen here so far production wise. Doing such a big musical in such a small space is exciting and we are really going for it. It’s quite the auditory and visual experience in addition to all the awesome music.”
Royal chose to incorporate several pieces from the revised London version that ran in 2004, three years after its Off-Broadway debut. “I think after the authors had a couple of years to look at it, they made some really smart, small changes,” he says. “We aren’t incorporating the full London script, but there are some changes based on that and I think that makes for a better story.”
Additionally, to make the show his own, Royal has made the story more focused on the title character and his journey.
“I have seen a few productions and it’s never gotten to the place emotionally that I always envisioned, and the story can get lost really easily because there are lots of side tracks it can take,” he says. “In the end, this is the story of Bat Boy and all the characters have a similar quality to him and there is some sort of line between Bat Boy being human and beast, and I found it was important to tell his story and in doing so, everyone else’s story comes out.”
Royal feels that having such a strong background in set design made him a perfect fit to direct this show.
“It’s so visual and I think my experience works well for that,” he says. “There are a lot of things the script doesn’t say that have to happen to tell the story and I think that my team and I have really been able to dig in and discover what those moments are and what the important story telling pieces are.”
Playing the role of Edgar (Bat Boy himself) is Jimmy Mavrikes; Royal says this was a key casting decision, but that all the roles required actors who could theoretically play multiple layers.
“We knew when we started that we had to have an actor portray and physicalize a number of characteristics,” Royal says. He continued “Seeing his transformation is the most important thing and being able to see this person be a scary monster and then transform into someone you fall in love with, was very important to all of us. Having a dark side, and all these lighter parts is a trait that every character battles with, whether they know it or not, so we needed versatile actors in all the parts.”
Closes June 22, 2014
1st Stage Theatre
1524 Spring Hill Road
Fridays thru Sundays
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Royal went into the casting process not looking for four leads and six ensemble players, but a company of 10 actors who were equally strong.
“I did not feel bad for a minute placing people in ensemble roles who I knew could handle much larger roles, but the result is a kick-ass, strong, loud cast and they can sing their faces off,” he says. “It’s been amazing watching them grow into these roles and I think I have really gotten my dream team.”
That dream team is: Maria Rizzo as Shelley, Esther Covington as Meredith, and Alan Naylor as Dr. Parker. An ensemble composed of Stephen Hock, Katie Nigsch-Fairfax, Farrell Parker, Russell Silber, Dani Stoller and Maggie Leigh Walker plays twenty-six additional characters.
Bat Boy: The Musical starts previews tonight. Official opening is May 31st. Tickets are available now