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Howard Sherman: What the hell is happening to Bat Out of Hell’s US tour?

Bat Out of Hell at London's Dominion Theatre. Photo: Specular
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US fans, and prospective fans, of the musical Bat Out of Hell went on a wild ride last week – and it’s not over yet.

Things started promisingly when news broke on October 28 that the previously announced Bat Out of Hell US tour would include a two-month summer run at New York’s City Center from July 2019. It was a rather unusual booking for the 2,200-seat venue, better known as the home of touring dance companies and the popular Encores! series of short-run presentations of classic musicals. What was most notable was that a show booked to play large-scale venues across the country would make a stop in Manhattan, but bypass Broadway. The Wall Street Journal published a glowing feature about its unconventional approach.

But the excitement was undermined days later, when on November 1, the website Broadway World reported that the tour appeared to be off. Its source: social media feeds from the cast of the show’s Toronto run, who had been due to continue with the tour when the show closed in Canada. The next day, the story was updated with a statement from the production, saying the tour had been postponed, but that the City Center run was still on.

This seemed cold comfort to the cast, who posted about the sudden disruption to their professional and personal plans, with some having turned down other work for Bat, and sublet their flats on the assumption that they wouldn’t be back in New York until the spring. After all, it was only in August that the show had announced it would run in the US from November 7 to July 7, 2019.

This wasn’t just a series of one-week runs: Bat Out of Hell was scheduled in some cities for multi-week runs, including December 8-23 in San Francisco and January 8-February 2, 2019 in Los Angeles. Not only were the cast and company of the tour left high and dry, but multiple performing arts venues, some of whom may have even offered Bat Out of Hell as part of their subscription series, were left with gaping holes in their schedules. Bookings like that can’t suddenly be replaced at one or two months’ notice.

It’s not as if there are companies of Hamilton or Dear Evan Hansen just idling, waiting for openings. Economic losses from such a sudden cancellation will spread out everywhere Bat Out of Hell was set to run, filtering even to restaurants and parking lots near the theatres, which now won’t benefit from the revenue that nightly theatre audiences bring.

Many reports have noted that the tour’s producers include rock promoter Michael Cohl, who pulled the plug at fairly short notice on a multi-city arena tour of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2014, while it was in rehearsal, and whose once-promised arena tour of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark never materialised.

As of November 7, the production told Broadway World: “The tour will now launch in 2019 with stops in St Paul, Dallas, and Washington DC ahead of the previously announced run at New York City Center, which will begin performances, as previously announced, on Tuesday, July 30. The production is working with everyone involved to reschedule and news about the North American tour will be announced soon.”

The human and economic impact of the truncated Bat Out of Hell tour is significant, and it’s rare for a tour of this scale to evaporate (or partially evaporate) so suddenly. Some online rumblings have suggested that the reason for the cancellations was soft advance sales. Most national tours in the US are in profit on paper even before they begin performances, based on guaranteed minimum returns from venues and the number of weeks booked. It would seem that Bat Out of Hell hadn’t adopted or mastered that model, or the postponement wouldn’t have been very likely.

It remains to be seen whether the new, limited out-of-town dates and the City Center run come off as now outlined. But to the disappointment of us Jim Steinman fans, the fear is that the show could still simply disappear like, well, a bat out of hell. Or maybe there will yet be paradise by the theatrical light.

This week in US theatre

Comedian-monologist Mike Birbiglia, whose one-man shows have been fast sell-outs Off-Broadway, makes the big step onto Broadway with his newest piece, simply titled The New One, opening on Sunday. Seth Barrish directs, with Ira Glass, creator of the popular radio programme This American Life, as executive producer.

At Classic Stage Company, John Doyle and a cast of eight take on Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, opening on Wednesday. Raul Esparza, who has recently been announced to play Hamlet for Chicago Shakespeare in 2019, takes on the title role here as well.

Hansol Jung’s Wild Goose Dreams, the story of a romance between a North Korean defector and a South Korean father, gets its New York premiere on Wednesday at the Public Theater. Leigh Silverman directs.

When new musical The Prom opens on Thursday, director-choreographer Casey Nicholaw will have four musicals playing on Broadway simultaneously, joining The Book of Mormon, Aladdin, and Mean Girls. Focused on a group of faded celebrities who seek to renew their fame by aiding a same-sex couple denied the opportunity to attend their high school rite of passage together, The Prom has a book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguelin, music by Matthew Sklar and lyrics by Beguelin. The cast includes Beth Leavel and Christopher Sieber.

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