Bat out of Hell – The Musical Review

Bat out of Hell – The Musical

Opera House, Manchester 

All stage fans have their dream musicals. Buffy’s ’Once More with Feeling’ is one of mine, while the other has been a rumour, a work in progress that always seemed to be in the planning stage: Bat out of Hell – The Musical. 

Then I heard it was finally a reality and when it premiered in Manchester, I promised myself I’d catch it one day. 

But at the back of my mind I feared it would be another We Will Rock You: a dystopian future; a corrupt, fascist government, and two lovers who kept bursting into a band’s back catalogue. In short, a contrived jukebox musical. 

But the difference here is the Bat albums were always the soundtracks to unmade musicals, so it’s more of a natural fit as the boy-meets-girl story unfolds. 
Fast forward to now, and after a 75-mile trek, the wife and I are sat in Manchester’s Opera House waiting for curtain up. The set looks like an industrial wreck torn from the pages of Heavy Metal comic; the couple on stage with an impressive motorcycle look like they’re just having a chat. Their indifference is deliberate. 

“I remember everything!” yells ripped hero Strat (Andrew Polec) as the lights die and the stage plunges into darkness. It’s so sudden, I’m shocked and thrilled. 

We’re off. The stage show I waited 30 years for has gone from zero to 100mph in a few seconds. 

I have a rictus grin for the first half as my dream show doesn’t just match my expectations but exceeds them. 


Ten minutes into this matinee and I’m wondering if if I can get tickets for the evening performance. 

I get goosebumps during some of the numbers and can’t believe the quality of the vocals during some favourite tracks. 

When I first moved to Yorkshire, I played those Meat Loaf albums on a loop. They were the soundtrack to many journeys back to the Midlands to see the folks. Everyone has their own BOOH stories, those personal interpretations of the lyrics. 


Seeing them enacted on that stunning stage is like a dozen Christmases rolled into one. 

There are many stars in this show, and that set is one of them. A masterfully designed multi-level feast for the eyes by John Bausor. 


We’re in the city of Obsidian, a futuristic Manhattan cut from the same cloth as John Carpenter’s Escape From New York. It’s brilliantly engineered, revealing new depths and concealed compartments for the duration. Just when I think I know everything the set can do, it morphs into something else, from gritty street to opulent dining room.  


Andrew Polec

The penthouse of controlling, brutal Falco (Rob Fowler) is gorgeous, and as his stunning daughter Raven (Christina Berrington) falls for the permanently young hero Strat, while taking dream suppressants care of her mum Sloane (Sharon Sexton), the story takes our star cross’d lovers on an odyssey connected by that astounding soundtrack. 


Most musicals have that one killer track, whether it’s Dreamgirls’ ’And I Am Telling You’ or Wicked’s ’Defying Gravity’. This has at least 18 of them. 

I resist checking the programme’s song listing for fear of my favourites being excluded. 


While Tonight Is What it Means to be Young (from 1984 cult offering Streets of Fire) would have worked perfectly, sadly it doesn’t feature. There’s such a wealth of other old Steinman classics, I can live with it. Tracks that provided the soundtrack to millions of peoples’ lives are performed with the sort of gusto usually reserved for show finales. 


Sharon Sexton

The first act closes with the eponymous tune and my partner Rachel and I think the same thing: has it done a Wicked and peaked with the standout song by half time?


Thankfully there are so many more highlights, we needn’t have worried. 
The cast are terrific. Andrew Polec matches Meat Loaf’s gobsmacking vocal range and looks like he’s stepped from the cover of the first album. Rob Fowler’s a perfect antagonist, with an equally astonishing voice. He pulls off a stunt so literally breathtaking near the finale, I’m astounded. And there are a few of those jaw-dropping moments, including a superb gag involving a Cadillac and raunchy foot-tapper Paradise by the Dashboard Light. 


Rob Fowler

So while I marvel at the set and revel in the songs and performances, I wonder if I’ll get a sucker punch moment that plucks the heart strings like a double bass. When a superb version of Objects in the Rear View Mirror arrives, it proves hugely touching. 

While five numbers leave me cold, in a show with 23 outstanding tracks that’s an incredible hit rate. 

Or to put it another way, 18 out of 23 ain’t bad. 

If great songs are gasoline, some musicals have the tank of a Mini Cooper: they burn through them and are spent in an hour. This show has the fuel capacity of the space shuttle’s external fuel tank. 
By the time the show finishes, everyone is on their feet for a well deserved ovation. The couple in front of us on are on their third viewing, while the pensioner to our right looks like she’s won the lottery. 


Christina Berrington 

I’m amazed Steinman chose to give his show its premiere in Manchester, but as it nears the end of its northern run before transferring to London, I’d urge anyone to go and see it. The ads aren’t big enough to do it justice. And as much as I hope it will tour closer to home, this needs to be on as big a stage as possible. 


It’s a sexy, funny, epic masterpiece that justified my 30-year wait. I can only hope it does well enough in London and on Broadway to justify an IMAX movie, and preferably without messing up the screenplay to accommodate its main star like Rock of Ages. 

For crying out loud, go and see it. 

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An Interview with Ian Ogilvy  – Part one

Actor and author Ian Ogilvy became a household name in TV show Return of the Saint in 1978. Ahead of the release of his new film, We Still Steal the Old Way, we had a chat about his career, stage fright, ageism in Hollywood and the advice he’d offer to his younger self. 

Your new movie is a sequel. Was it like putting on a comfy pair of slippers playing Richie again in We Still Steal the Old Way?
Yes it was rather (laughs). 


What was it that attracted you to the first film, We Still Kill the Old Way? 
Well, it was something that I’ve never done before to be honest with you Roger. I was always playing the guy who beat up the character I played in the first film.

I’d never played a gangster before. And to play an ageing, elderly retired gangster was terribly appealing to me. I just thought ’I wonder if anyone will accept me in this?’ And I looked in the mirror and I thought ’Well you’re fat enough now and we can get away with it. 


I loved it. It’s my favourite character really, because it’s something I’ve never done in my life. 

You seem very comfortable in the role.

Yeah, once I sussed out how I was going to do it, being laid-back and trying to be humorous about it, I thought that’s the way to do it. 

You’ve lived in America for the past 27 years, so how was it working back in the UK?

It’s lovely. Well I don’t work much in America any more. I used to work here all the time but then I just got old, and ageism here is pretty severe. So when I got too old to do any acting in America I started writing. I became an author, a book writer, all of which paid the bills as well as if not better than my acting. So I was quite happy with that, but I’ve always taken jobs if anybody ever offered them to me. And to this day most of the offers still come from the UK. So I’m over there every (the UK) often doing something in the UK, but I don’t do much here (the US) any more.
Tbc…

Ghost in the Shell (2017) Movie Review

Starring Scarlett Johansson, Juliette Binoche, Takeshi Kitano

Directed by Rupert Sanders

In the mid-1990s, I was caught in the blast of the anime explosion caused by Akira. That stunning sci-fi saga opened the floodgates for a wealth of dazzling, weird, eye-popping animated films from Japan, and I bought a fair few of them. None were as good as Akira, but as an aspiring comic book artist, they provided no end of inspiration. 


However, many were missing a certain something. Then along came Ghost in the Shell, a film based on Masamune Shirow’s comic which was beautifully designed and featured a mix of international creative talent that helped bridge the gap between east and west. It was a hybrid anime that could appeal to a wider audience, was a feast for the eyes and that soundtrack was unforgettable. 


Like all fans of the genre, I waited as a live action version of Akira repeatedly went into production and then stalled, while a Ghost in the Shell movie was also mooted. 

And when Scarlett Johansson signed up for the lead role in the latter, I got a little dizzy. One of the biggest actresses in the world headlining one of my favourite anime adaptations? It was too good to be true. 


And the good news is, GITS (as nobody is calling it) is remarkably effective. It retains the weirdness of the original, the visually stunning designs, and Scarlett nails the Major’s robotic sex appeal. She dominates every frame she’s in, from the faithful opening shots of her creation, when her human brain (ghost) is lowered into her robot body (shell), to the excellent finale. 

Though not a carbon copy of the anime, it takes the best elements and enhances them. The iconic opening free fall skyscraper attack is terrific, as is the mystery at the heart of the drama. 

One of my favourite moments from the original was the heroine’s battle with a spider tank – a great surprise. Here there is none of that as a bad guy flags it up early. 


Purists could spend hours comparing the two movies, but I’m not going to be that nerdy. 

Unlike many Hollywood sci-fi sagas which are all style and no substance, this is a fine melange of classic themes, most importantly what it means to be human in a world increasingly obsessed with technology. 

It also manages to retain the heroine’s sense of humanity as bits are removed from her.  

In the RoboCop remake, the hero was stripped down to little more than a head and lungs at one point. It looked awful, so thankfully there’s enough of Scarlett here to ensure I buy that she’s not just copied and pasted onto the marvellous mechanical contraption. 

The smart thing about the story is it’s a police procedural thriller that just happens to involve robots and cyber-enhanced characters. So it has an appeal for those who normally steer clear of such sci-fi stories. 

In the original film the finale took the story in such a direction that the Major would have to be played by a young girl for the sequel. Obviously as this is intended to launch a franchise, that finale is tweaked, and though it feels like the end of Spider-Man with its rousing voice over speech, I’m just delighted that GITS works as well as it does. And it’s great to hear the original theme over the closing minutes. 

For this fan, GITS2 cannot come soon enough. 

8/10

Life (2017) Movie Review

Movie review – Life 
Certificate 15

Directed by Daniel Espinosa

Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds

By Roger Crow
“Mr Crow. Your chosen specialist subject is aliens on a spaceship movies”. 

I’ve never been on Mastermind, and have no plans to be, but if John Humphrys wants to spend a while grilling me on the matter of ETs in an enclosed space, I could answer every question he threw at me. The genre is as old as the hills, from Howard Hawks’ classic The Thing From Another World to those gold standards of the genre, Alien and Aliens. The latter two set the bar so high for suspense and action that few film makers have topped it in the 31 years since James Cameron’s masterpiece was released. And of course without Ridley Scott’s 1979 groundbreaker, there would have been no Aliens. 

All of which preamble brings us to Life, Daniel Espinosa’s new thriller which looks like a mash-up of Gravity and Alien. 


Going in I had zero expectations, especially based on the trailer in which one poor guy testing a Martian soil sample is grabbed by ’Calvin’, the organism at the heart of the drama. 

(I’d actually walked past said guy, Ariyon Bakare, when he was filming Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell inside Wentworth Woodhouse a few years ago and will never forget his comment: “Ooh, journalists. I hope they’re nice journalists”). 

Though Ryan Reynolds is a bigger name in Life, Bakare steals much of his thunder. He’s always been a solid actor in shows such as Doctors and Casualty, but to see him providing the necessary credibility as the science boffin who helps create Calvin, he deserves the lion’s share of the credit as a sort of orbiting Dr Frankenstein. 


The plot is simple: the crew of the International Space Station collect a bunch of Martian soil samples; they test it for life; one of the samples grows into an organism and, well, you can guess the rest. 

It’s that simplicity which is one of Life’s greatest assets. The title is rubbish, especially as it may be confused with Anton Corbijn’s namesake James Dean drama from a couple of years ago or a BBC documentary. 

The fact the ever reliable Jake Gyllenhaal is on board bodes well. The thespian is always terrific, so if anyone can add gravitas to a project it’s him. And while Reynolds (from Espinosa’s humdrum Safe House) adds appeal, it’s Rebecca Ferguson who’s most intriguing. Since her star-making turn in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, I’ve been hooked on her work, and here she is just as compelling. 


So as I marvel at the impressive CGI effects and comparisons between Gravity and Alien start to fall by the wayside, it slowly dawns on me that I’m watching a Trojan horse of a movie. 

Life actually isn’t just a mash-up of those films, though it seems to be, but an episode of The Twilight Zone with the third act ramping up to an ending so affecting, it takes me hours to recover. 

There’s perhaps no spoiler to reveal that not all of the crew survive the running time, but while Calvin wreaks havoc on the ISS, it’s his smartness that really appeals. Skittering around the ship like a face hugger from the Alien saga, it does whatever it can to survive, and when a couple of protagonists come up with a plan to get rid of it, that’s when things get really interesting. 

As the finale unfolds, I come up with two plot developments: one would be a cop out and the other is so wonderfully dark, but unlikely, I can’t imagine Espinosa would execute it. 

I’ll obviously not reveal what happens, but the fact someone as jaded and yet addicted to the ’alien on a space ship’ genre as me was ’pleasantly’ surprised by the rug-pulling third act means Espinosa just levelled up many times in my estimation. 

(Okay, imagine the opposite of pleasantly and you’ll be closer the mark). 

Though it works perfectly as a standalone film, I wouldn’t mind a sequel. 

As fans wait for what looks like another derivative Alien prequel (yes, I’ll be there on the opening night as usual), I’m hoping Alien Covenant will repair some of the damage caused by the annoying Prometheus in 2012, but for now Life is the dark horse that could be THE sci-fi thriller of the year. And no one is more surprised by the fact than me. 

8/10