A mountainside's no place to raise cows, y'see. Overexposure tends to kill the animals and piss off their owners. Next thing you know, there's a posse of bloodthirsty ranchers at your door, fixin' to dispatch the predator-any predator-even if it's the wrong one.
That's not the only obstacle the central character faces in Bat Boy: The Musical, the current entry from San Diego State University's School of Theatre, Television and Film. The cachectic li'l fella-half bat, half boy, discovered in a West Virginia cave and taken to sleepy Hope Falls for dispatch-has to fight the town's religious prejudice and his urges to suck everybody's blood. He's eventually named Edgar (Jakko Maltis), and he's alive today only because the vet, Dr. Parker (Jay Cranford), had a change of heart (on condition that his wife spread 'em for the first time since the second Reagan administration).
Topically, there's lots to recommend this send-up of classic horror films and movie musicals. The last 20 minutes is a panic, replete with grainy, explicit film footage on Edgar's biological birthright; in the spirit of My Fair Lady, Edgar's adaptation to human life is roundly feted in the great number “I'll Show You a Thing Or Two.” Director Rick Simas sees the bawdy wit and slapsticky cadence, and he acts accordingly as he builds Edgar's love interest with Parker's cute daughter Shelley (Nicole Werner).
Since its 2001 New York opening, Bat Boy has in fact become a cult favorite in the Rocky Horror Picture Show mold, mounted from Portsmouth, N.H., to San Diego (the SDSU show is this city's premiere). But critics have also noted Bat Boy makes inordinate leaps between comedy and drama-and if only generally, this one concurs. Take O'Keefe's very un-satirical lyrics, for example, in “Let Me Walk Among You” as Edgar entreats the town's acceptance (“Let me walk among you / Let me show my face; / I could learn to live with you / I can find my place”). And too often, the dialogue flattens amid greater expectations (watch Mrs. Parker swoon over Edgar's intelligence and his “lovely Eastern European accent”).
As a spoof, Bat Boy takes itself seriously in some of the wrong places, and it dawdles on the level of camp it wants to portray. But it's also touched by the special vitality university theater exudes. These kids aren't necessarily blinded by the enticement of the footlights, and it shows.
This review is based on the opening-night performance of March 11. Bat Boy: The Musical runs through March 20 at San Diego State University's Don Powell Theatre. $12-$15. 619-594-6884.