First released in 1977, Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman’s rock odyssey, Bat Out Of Hell, went on to become one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. In the latest issue of Music Week, we explore its remarkable legacy – and that includes its latest incarnation: Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical which is premiering in London this week. Here we speak to producers Tony Smith and Michael Cohl about the challenges and rewards of bringing a true rock and roll monster into the West End…
The Bat Musical debuted in Manchester earlier this year, have you been happy with the reception so far?
Tony Smith: “The reaction has been fabulous – we got seven five star reviews in Manchester, which is not bad. It went down extremely well, people loved it. Interestingly enough, that goes from hardcore Bat Out Of Hell fans to regular theatre goers. As a whole package it works really well. We’ve fine-tuned it to the stage where it really works strongly. Obviously, with a musical like this you need to be able to present it as a good, theatrical narrative piece, as well as being a rock musical.”
Michael Cohl: “The audience loved it, the press even loved it. Audiences loving a show is not that unusual, but all of the press raving was shocking. More than anything, I love the show. It’s great fun to be in the audience when it’s happening.”
What was the biggest challenge of putting it together?
Smith: “Probably the biggest challenge is to make sure it doesn’t become a series of songs, that there is a narrative you can follow through: there is a boy meets girl story, there is jeopardy, all the classic elements you need in a good stage play.”
Cohl: “We started out with probably as good a musical set of songs as any show ever – whether you go to the Abba Musical or Westside Story. The whole goal was to try and come up with something that was on a par with that. The original idea for Bat Out Of Hell was for it to be a musical – it’s funny how life gets in the way sometimes and it became this whole other monster success, when it was intended to be a musical.”
You both worked on Rock Of Ages before this, how useful was that experience in teeing you up for Bat Out Of Hell?
Smith: “I think what it taught me is the difference between the two shows. The difference with Bat Out Of Hell is that it started out a musical, it started in concept as a musical – the lyrics in the songs carry the narrative of the story. Whereas with Rock Of Ages it was a very different animal, in that it was a set of songs you then have to create a story around, whereas this, the narrative came first and the songs carry the narrative. I think that’s a big difference.”
Does this have the potential to transcend the theatre, like Rock Of Ages, and spawn its own film and soundtrack?
Smith: “I think it does, but we’re all in the same mind in seeing how it goes – it’s baby steps in a way, but these are fairly big babies now we’re going into the London Coliseum. The setting is perfect for it: it’s a rock opera. I hate to use that term, but it has an operatic feel to it.”
Cohl: “There’s hope, but not plans. Right now, our plan is we’re going to London, and we’re all hoping for a great run in London, we’re going to Toronto after that for another short run, and we don’t really have any concrete plans beyond that. We’re doing the best we can in the moment we’re in. Assuming success, there’s lots of room and lots of time to plan all of those other things – and I’m sure we’d love to look at them.”
What do Meat Loaf, Jim Steinman and Bat Out Of Hell mean to the wider world of music?
Smith: “They hold a unique place. I can’t think of another album that has quite the same qualities. The operatic feel that Steinman’s lyrics and compositions are extraordinary, in that there’s such a wide range – vocally the range is huge. I can’t think of another album that has the same qualities. It’s quite unique. In terms of a legacy, Bat Out Of Hell has a unique position in the rock ‘n’ roll genre. I can’t think of another album that one could compare it to.”