BAT BOY: THE MUSICAL by Keythe Farley, Brian Flemming and Laurence O'Keefe, directed by Michael McGinn, with Jay T. Schramek, Laura Caswell, David Rosser, Jayne Lewis, Shawn Wright, Jenni Burke, Cara Leslie, Graham Coffeng, Steven Gallagher and Duff MacDonald. Presented by Hot Feat Productions Inc. in association with Morris Berchard at the Bathurst Street Theatre (736 Bathurst). Previews to Monday (February 21), opens Tuesday (February 22) and runs to April 16, Monday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday 2 pm (from February 26). $50-$55, stu $25, limited rush $20, preview discounts. 416-872-1111. Rating: NNNNN
Next time you're in the annex, don't be surprised if you see a guy with sharp teeth and really pointy ears waiting in line for a latte. Jay T. Schramek, aka Bat Boy, is just taking a break.
"I was in Swiss Chalet the other day, and as I was leaving this woman came up to me and asked if my ears were surgically done," laughs Schramek, who portrays the title character of the tabloid-inspired musical, which opens Tuesday (February 22) at the Bathurst Street Theatre.
"She was seriously admiring them. I was getting coffee another day, and someone asked when the show was going to open. So you get every response."
In case you're wondering, the ears take half an hour to put on. The teeth are Poligripped and took Schramek weeks to get used to.
"At first it was like wearing a retainer," he laughs. "Now I have a ton of sympathy for people who wear dentures."
Both effects came from Complexions, the leading makeup FX company for Toronto-based films.
It's hard to miss Schramek's image these days. Bat Boy's ad campaign has been one of the cleverest around, trying to bite into another demographic.
It's smart thinking, especially considering the early closings of the Mirvish musicals Hairspray and The Producers last year.
Granted, a story about a half-bat, half-boy creature who's looking for love and acceptance but finds discrimination might not attract busloads of Buffalo tourists, but it does seem novel enough to pack out a few Bathurst streetcars up from Queen West. And the top-price ticket is about half that of Mamma Mia!'s.
"Price is important, for sure, but I think the show's quirky enough to attract people who don't usually go to the theatre. And the existing musical-going crowd will want to see it because it's played off-Broadway and in London's West End."
Schramek knows his musicals. He spent two years playing Pepper, the nimble acrobat in Mamma Mia! Doing flips and spins while singing Voulez-Vous turned out to be good prep for Bat Boy, in which, among other things, he gets to sing upside down.
But while the moves might pose some challenges, right now Schramek's most concerned about the psychological dimensions of his character.
"There are so many ways you can approach Bat Boy," he says. "There's the underdog aspect, so I've used sources like The Elephant Man and Edward Scissorhands. But you can also look at the Christ story, or figures like Luke Skywalker, Hamlet and Helen Keller. There's a lot of Eliza Doolittle in Bat Boy."
Director Michael McGinn is focusing on the idea of the hero's journey, says Schramek.
"It's been wonderful digging into this archetype. The show also plays on musical theatre archetypes and has goth elements. I think we pay homage to those things, but we don't send them up. This isn't a spoof."
In fact, on the first page of the Bat Boy script, writers Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming point out that the story doesn't need any embellishment. The laughs are built into the play.
"Most of the cast got all our laughs out during the rehearsal process. There were moments of breaking down. But now we're taking it all seriously. Dead seriously."