ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Exceptional cast creates magical evening in St. Scholastica's "Bat Boy"

"Bat Boy: The Musical!" -- the perfect Halloween play, right? Wrong! It's about as scary as "Show Boat" or "Oklahoma." But it's also true to the tradition of those early musicals, telling a story with a thinly veiled moral. A difference is that, ...

Bat Boy
Kyle Geissler, a Hermantown High School senior plays the Bat Boy in "Bat Boy: The Musical!" at the College of St. Scholastica. Geissler shaved his head and subjected himself to the application of pointed ears and elongated canines, as well as stark white makeup, to play the bizarre creature discovered in a cave outside a small West Virginia town.

"Bat Boy: The Musical!" -- the perfect Halloween play, right? Wrong! It's about as scary as "Show Boat" or "Oklahoma."

But it's also true to the tradition of those early musicals, telling a story with a thinly veiled moral. A difference is that, after the laughs and the music, "Bat Boy's" conclusion is both shocking and -- given the fantastical circumstances -- inevitable.

And it's also the most ambitious -- and spectacularly successful -- production I can recall the College of St. Scholastica Theatre staging in 10 years of attending its shows.

Director Priscilla Manisto gathered 27 cast members, thickly studded with exceptional performers, and created a magical evening at Friday's opening. Her bench was so deep that her chorus included Jen Bergum, who has played leading roles in musicals and non-musicals on most of the stages in town. About half the cast of the production is neither student nor employee at CSS.

Her prize find, though, has to have been Kyle Geissler, a Hermantown High School senior who plays the Bat Boy. Geissler, already familiar to audiences at the Duluth Playhouse and Renegade Comedy Theatre, has developed something of a reputation for his commitment to his roles. That reputation is furthered in this show by his having shaved his head and subjected himself to the application of pointed ears and elongated canines, as well as stark white makeup, to play the bizarre creature discovered in a cave outside a small West Virginia town.

ADVERTISEMENT

Geissler's singing voice is only adequate, certainly when compared to others' in the cast, but his characterization is a standout, showing us the evolution from feral beast to avid learner to na?ve seeker of acceptance to, ultimately, horrified knower of hideous truth.

His presence kept him central even among a bevy of more experienced actors and more talented singers, such as Luke Moravec, Amber Goodspeed and Ashley Borgstrom.

Moravec plays Dr. Thomas Parker, the town veterinarian, to whom the Bat Boy is taken after it's captured. Goodspeed is his wife, Meredith, who intervenes when her husband wants to "put [the Bat Boy] down" with a lethal injection and begins teaching him the ways of humans. Borgstrom plays their daughter, Shelley, who at first is repulsed by the Bat Boy but eventually grows fond of--and ultimately in love with -- him.

All are capable actors, but this may be Goodspeed's finest role ever at St. Scholastica. Her inexplicable disgust with her husband and extraordinary tenderness toward the strange boy represent a range she covers convincingly. She also reveals an exceptionally strong and facile singing voice in tender ballads such as "A Home for You" and in duets with Moravec.

Some of the sweetest music in the show is when Goodspeed sings with Borgstrom, who also delivers a palpable devotion in her profession of love for the Bat Boy on "Inside Your Heart."

Manisto employs her eight-member chorus ingeniously, sometimes almost in the Greek tradition as tellers of the backstory, at other times representing a mood and at yet others as performers. Throughout, Choreographer Kevin Belanger moves them through the action with the perfect style for the moment. And their backup of Amy Koivisto as the revivalist preacher Rev. Billie Hightower on "A Joyful Noise" almost had any sinners in the house ready to jump up and go forward.

And, indeed, at the curtain, the entire audience jumped up, the first standing ovation I can remember at CSS, and one fully merited.

Paul Brissett is a Duluth writer and amateur actor who has appeared in numerous community theater productions.

Related Topics: THEATER
What To Read Next
The system crashed earlier this month, grounding flights across the U.S.