So when the ingenue in the Unicorn Theatre's adrenaline-charged Bat Boy sings to her beloved, I think you're normaler than they, the grammatically jarring statement arrives wrapped in a silky melody. This is the way the show consistently pleases: as the weirdest of musicals that doesn't trash but celebrates the form. It's a fabulous conundrum -- the pretty Juliet trilling to a Romeo with hideous bat ears and fangs.
Cynthia Levin and Missy Koonce codirect the Unicorn's production and seem to have amplified one another's assets. The show is altogether wacky but never less than human. Thanks to several cast members -- especially Seth Golay, who is outstanding as the titular freak of nature -- the bull's-eyes are lunatic and exhilarating.
After a group of thrill-seeking teenagers kidnaps the Bat Boy from his dank cave, he's brought to the also-chilly suburban home of Meredith (Lori Blalock) and Dr. Thomas Parker (Phil Fiorini), the town veterinarian. At first a drooling, squeaking embarrassment, Bat Boy earns the name Edgar after weeks of lessons on how to be normal -- or at least presentable. The Parkers' daughter, Shelly (Julie Taylor), takes to Edgar perhaps too hormonally, while Meredith treats him with the moist-eyed love you'd see on an Oprah reunion show. In one of the show's cleverest songs, "Show You a Thing or Two," Meredith and Shelly put him through a program of flash cards and enunciation drills. Before the number closes with a big bang, Edgar's sounding like Ralph Fiennes. As Meredith says, "Those BBC tapes seem to have paid off!"
Lest you think the show is a furry My Fair Lady, though, it gets darker (and campier) by trolling in 1950s sci-fi territory. Dr. Parker is revealed to be more freakish than Edgar, and his disillusionment with his failed research (and marriage) translates into psychosis. The town sheriff (Vince Monachino) has whipped up a froth of hostility, mainly because Edgar has bitten a couple of his constituents and the local cows are mysteriously dropping dead. The show is about nothing if not the convenience of scapegoating.
But even though people die in front of us, humor underlies the carnage. In the finale, the cast outlines what we've learned: "love your neighbor," for sure, but also silly morals like "a mountain's no place to raise cows."
Golay's achievement is nothing to laugh at, though. Bat Boy requires a hero more boy than bat; his maltreatment from the townies has to evoke as many emotions as the warmth he gets once he's embraced by a family. Golay has the remarkably physical voice, athletic presence and soulful eyes to make Edgar a figure of indubitable compassion. Blalock, Fiorini and Taylor possess vibrant singing voices and satiric impulses that give the Parkers all the right moves. Ensemble members Sarah Crawford, Angela Polk, Damron Armstrong, Charles Fugate and Michael Andrew Smith play multiple characters. Smith's Rick is the finest of these creations, especially when he becomes an Eminem-inspired thug. (Problems with pitch hurt the other performances, though.)
Gary Mosby's set is a metal labyrinth winding up to the Unicorn's ceiling. The catwalks and towers look as though they'd rattle and teeter in the slightest breeze but prove as strong as Laurence O'Keefe's lyrics and Keythe Farley and Brian Flemming's book. They support with impenetrable force the story and characters to a degree that should give Rodgers and Hammerstein a couple of good turns in their graves.