[ WEEKEND ]
achieves cult status
"Bat Boy" opens the season
Beast makes headlines
at Manoa Valley Theatre
Caged animals and retarded children. Shannon Loo has been imagining what they experience -- under scrutiny in a cage or struggling to communicate -- as he refines his portrayal of the titular character in Manoa Valley Theatre's season-opening production of "Bat Boy: The Musical."
'Bat Boy: The Musical'
Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 4 p.m. Sundays. Opens Wednesday and continues through Sept. 28.
Tickets: $30 (with discounts for seniors, military and those under 26)
"It's harder to go through the changes of becoming a more humanized animal, but keeping the animal characteristics there and pulling little tiny bits of the animal back (out) when (the bat boy) gets frustrated or sad," Loo explained after a long late evening rehearsal at the theater on Tuesday. (The musical opens next Wednesday.)
Loo stars as the mysterious half-bat/half-human that is discovered in a cave in the mountains of West Virginia and adopted by the local veterinarian, Dr. Parker, and his wife, Meredith. The couple and their daughter, Shelley, do their best to help the bat boy adjust to life in human society, but some of the townspeople refuse to see the pointy-eared and sharp-fanged boy as anything other than a dangerous freak.
If the notion of a human with batlike characteristics sounds vaguely like something more than a stage show, it's probably because the Weekly World News has been "documenting" the life and times of the bat boy ever since he was discovered in 1992. (See the accompanying story.)
Of course, the notorious tabloid also recently ran the first-ever photos of an actual alien kidnapping.
But does anybody really believe that a half-human/half-bat could exist?
"You really have to suspend your knowledge of genetics and biology," says Sherry Chock Wong, who plays Shelley in MVT's production. "Bat Boy: The Musical" was an off-Broadway hit in 2001 and has since achieved cult status.
Other members of the cast include Kevin Yamada, who returns to MVT to play the vet, and Karen Valasek is Meredith.
"I have now become the 'cool mom' (with my kids) for doing this show," Valasek said. She isn't sure what it is about the show that has made it a national cult favorite, but says that it was the music that drew her to the production.
"The music is the key to the whole show. It's fabulous," she said, describing the story of the bat boy as a cross between "Twin Peaks" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" that gets the audience laughing "at all this uncomfortable stuff."
WONG SAYS she, too, was attracted by the score, as well as the opportunity to take on a challenging role. She's playing a 17-year-old in a cast in which several members of the ensemble are real teens.
"I love the music. It's got rock, rap, there's gospel, some Gene Kelly-type Broadway numbers, just everything, all in one show. I've never done rap before, and I don't think Honolulu theater audiences have heard me do rock, so it will be interesting for them to see me in a totally different type of role than anything I've ever done."
Says Yamada, "The story is very different -- part horror, part romance. It has a lot of elements to it," he said, describing the bat boy as a victim of social prejudice and "his own nature."
Scott Rogers, who received a Pookela award this summer for his direction of MVT's "Visiting Mr. Green" last season, is back for "Bat Boy." Keith Griffin, composer of the original score for "Mr. Green," is the show's musical director, and Katherine Jones is the choreographer.
Costume designer Athena Espania collaborated with Greg Howell in creating the combination of clothing, makeup and hair that defines the visual presence of the bat boy.
Loo says that the hair and makeup take about an hour to apply.
"Bat Boy: The Musical" follows a more conventional trajectory than the open-ended saga found in the pages of the Weekly World News. The bat boy is removed from his cave, given a quick makeover to prepare him for a new life in human society and then faces the fear and prejudice from those who see him as a freak -- or a research project.
Loo sees the bat boy as being both good and bad.
"I think he's victim in that it's not his fault. I think he is bad in the way that he can't control himself. He's good in the way that he's a human and he's like the rest of the townspeople, but he is basically a wild animal."
BACK TO TOP
While the majority of American supermarket tabloids like the National Enquirer, the Globe and the Star yield thousands of impulse purchases each day through the promise of juicy celebrity gossip, the Weekly World News has fought tooth and nail for its share of checkout counter buys by consistently generating the most outrageous and outlandish headlines of all of them combined.
The periodical, which clued the world to Elvis' re-emergence in 1988 and presented countless government conspiracies and alien encounters in its lifetime, made perhaps their most bizarre claim 11 years ago, by announcing the discovery of a half-human/half-bat creature in West Virginia.
In June 1992 the Weekly World News reported the startling encounter by zoologist Dr. Ron Dillon of a strange beast inhabiting a previously uncharted cave in the Shenandoah Mountains.
Measuring in at 2 feet and 19 pounds, Bat Boy, as Dillon and his research team dubbed him, had large eyes and gigantic radarlike ears, which they believe allowed him to see and hear in darkness.
Bat Boy, they say, adapted well to life in captivity, adding that he often consumed his own weight in bugs.
In September of that year, WWN again beat competing news outlets in reporting Bat Boy's escape from a research facility.
Though small in stature, Dillon warned that Bat Boy's razor-sharp teeth and apelike strength made him extremely dangerous. Though he could not say what caused the escape, Dillon denied rumors that a drunk custodian beat the creature the night he broke the padlock to his cell.
Before long, Bat Boy was found thousands of miles away, asleep and floating on a plastic raft in the pool of Las Vegas businessman Eric Riccardi, who, with the aid of his roommate Don McCowan, captured Bat Boy with a pool net and locked him in their garage.
They kept him fed by sliding table scraps, Spam and applesauce beneath the garage door.
Efforts to contain him were unsuccessful, however, and in December 1992, Orlando, Fla., photographer Basil Furch captured Bat Boy on film, attacking 10-year-old Amy Mikelly after the fifth-grader threw a rock at him (photos available at www.angelfire.com/ca3/microwavedbacon/batboy.html).
Furch chased him away with a trash can.
BETWEEN 1992 and 1994, Bat Boy was sighted in hundreds of locales across the country -- Boston, Bakersfield, Calif., and Austin, Texas, just to name a few.
In 1997, federal agents finally subdued the wild creature in Charlotte, N.C., with a tranquilizer dart, but not before he devoured an agent's finger.
Three years on, Bat Boy was reported to have fled another research lab, this time in Macon, Ga.
Within weeks of his escape, however, the Weekly World News claimed to have spoken with an anonymous Al Gore campaign aide who, amazingly, witnessed the creature enter the presidential hopeful's campaign office near Ann Arbor, Mich.
"He was there to endorse our man," the aide revealed to WWN in 2000. "He started screeching and excitedly pointing at a 'Gore for President' sign and shaking his head 'yes, yes, yes.'"
Bat Boy recently developed a crush on President Bush's daughter Jenna, whom he'd seen dancing with her father on TV at the Inauguration Ball, according to WWN's source, an anonymous contact with the Secret Service.
The source is said to have expressed serious concern in the matter, stating, "If he tries to bite or harm Miss Bush, he will be shot."
Details on Bat Boy, as of late, have been sporadic and muddy at best, though scattered reports have him joining the military and even getting married and having children.
Those with information on the whereabouts of Bat Boy are urged to contact Weekly World News at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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