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Like a Bat Out Of Hell... musical is set to take flight after 48 years

By Andy Welch

Meat Loaf's success has stood the test of time, but it didn't happen overnight - neither did songwriter Jim Steinman's dream of turning his most famous album into a stage show, which stars Belfast-born actress Christina Bennington.

Bat Out Of Hell - The Musical has been a long time coming. Ask Meat Loaf when he first heard about the idea, and he replies: "About 48 years ago. It's been Jimmy's dream since I first met him."

And the stage version of the famous album will star Belfast-born actress Christina Bennington, (25), who will play Raven, alongside her American co-star Andrew Polec, (22), as Strat.

Jimmy, of course, is Jim Steinman, Meat's long-time friend, and writer of the songs that made him a star.

"I believe every song he's ever written was written for this musical. It was in his mind the whole time - the drama, the boy-girl love story, all of it," adds the Texas-born star, real name Marvin Lee Aday.

But waiting for something to happen with Bat Out Of Hell is no new thing.

The album originally developed from Neverland, a futuristic Peter Pan-inspired musical Steinman wrote for a workshop in 1974.

The songwriter and Meat met when the singer auditioned in front of Steinman, singing (I'd Love To Be) As Heavy As Jesus ("The joke was, I weighed about 300lb. Jimmy heard me sing, then told me I was as heavy as two Jesuses"). They got to work on Steinman's songs, with Todd Rundgren producing, and famously hawked the record to numerous labels before it was finally released by Cleveland International in 1977. There was no ambition lacking from the music; operatic, melodramatic and powerful, inspired equally by Wagner and Bruce Springsteen.

Their own hopes for the album were somewhat lower, with Meat Loaf suggesting they only wanted to sell 100,000 copies, enough to mean they could make another one together. Having hated recording it - "I don't like being in the studio" - Meat says promoting it was even harder.

"It took from October to May, working five live shows a week, radio interviews morning, noon and night to get anywhere, and I got a trailer for the album put on at the beginning of The Rocky Horror Picture Show movie."

The strategy and hard work paid off. Meat was by this time also famous for playing Eddie in the aforementioned film, and with the help of DJs in New York and Boston playing songs from the album, such as the epic title track and Paradise By The Dashboard Light, the album began to sell. Around 750,000 copies a week.

Bat Out Of Hell is now one of the biggest-selling albums of all time, having sold more than 43 million copies, with songs You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth, All Revved Up With No Place To Go and Two Out Of Three Ain't Bad synonymous with Meat's larger than life performances.

Andrew Polec, an American stage actor, has been tasked with playing Strat, the lead in the forthcoming musical.

It's no easy feat for Polec; Steinman's a writer who likes to push vocalists to the limit, one semitone at a time.

"I know I've got big, meaty shoes to fill," says Pennsylvania-born Polec. "Singing Bat Out Of Hell is like running a marathon. Paradise is 12 minutes long. I'd Do Anything For Love is almost 10. It'll push my stamina to the limit, but I'm ready."

Strat, he says, is the leader of a rebellious group who never age. The storyline will see him fall for the daughter of the post-apocalyptic land's despotic ruler, Falco.

"They've always been the yin and yang of their bleak existence. Strat is complete rock and roll, wild adventure, that cool guy everyone wants to be, the Jim Morrison or Iggy Pop of that world," he adds.

A lifelong fan of the album, Polec got the part after answering an ad for an open audition. With his heart already set on the job, he turned up with a giant drum to bang while he sang ("I hoped it would make me stand out, and it must've worked.").

Meat is full of praise for the person singing the songs that helped make his name 40 years ago.

"They're not easy, some of these songs cover three-and-a-half octaves. I don't know who could do it, Freddie Mercury hit that many octaves, but not many others have done. Andrew will have his work cut out, but I know he can do it, and he's young, so his voice will stand up to it," he says.

There was never any question about Meat's involvement. Even if Bat Out Of Hell had gone to the stage back in the Seventies, he wouldn't have taken part.

"All those years ago, there was an idea I was going to make a cameo as a character called Tink, like Tinkerbell, the joke being that I was so heavy," the star explains.

"But no, no. And in any case, I've lost so much weight that I couldn't even do that. I've lost 50lb since the summer, I'm getting skinny."

Meat underwent back surgery late last year, and says the weight loss has helped.

Ultimately, while he's always been a cheerleader for the musical, he takes most pleasure in knowing that his old friend Steinman's dream of staging a Bat Out Of Hell musical is finally happening.

"Words can't describe how pleased I am for him to be getting his wish. He's wanted this for so long, and it's finally coming true."

  • Jim Steinman's Bat Out Of Hell - The Musical runs in Opera House Manchester between Friday, February 17 and April 8, before moving to the London Coliseum in June. Visit batoutofhellmusical.com

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