Meat Loaf rock classic becomes a musical
Bell Media ventures into live theatre with production of Bat Out of Hell
LONDON— For decades, songwriter Jim Steinman’s dream was to see the songs he composed and recorded with Meat Loaf — primarily the 1977 bestseller Bat Out of Hell — turned into a musical stage show. He thought he finally had a deal five years ago, but it fell through.
That’s when he called Michael Cohl.
Cohl is the Toronto-based impresario who for years has managed the touring careers of music’s hottest acts, including the Rolling Stones. He has gone on to produce live stage versions of Rock of Ages, Hairspray, The Lord of the Rings and SpiderMan: Turn Off the Dark.
Steinman felt Cohl was the only person with the skills to make his dream happen. Songs such as “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” were never meant to be hit singles, he argued, they were conceived as part of a passionate, rock ’n’ roll musical.
Cohl did not say, as Meat Loaf once sang, “Let me sleep on it.”
Instead, he drove to a friend’s cottage listening to Bat Out of Hell.
As soon as he arrived, he called Steinman to say he was in.
His next call was to his friend Tony Smith, best known for managing Genesis and its members though subsequent solo careers. What impressed Smith was that “the songs carry the narrative of the story, which you don’t hear when you listen to them individually.”
Cohl and Smith arranged to have 15 of Steinman’s songs “workshopped” by other singers at a club in New York. “It was amazing,” recalls Cohl.
Step three was bringing in a media partner. Cohl reached out to another Canadian: Randy Lennox, president of Universal Music at the time. Lennox did not need much convincing.
Back in 1977, while still in high school, Lennox snuck past Cohl into the fabled Toronto music club the El Mocambo and saw Steinman and Meat Loaf perform Bat Out of Hell.
“After having a little liquid courage I went upstairs, found Jim and Meat Loaf and told them the set was an absolute masterpiece.”
Flash forward 40 years. Lennox becomes president of broadcasting and content for Bell Media, and the pieces fall into place.
Here was the big media giant who could amplify promotion and carry production costs.
TV companies don’t usually get in- to the live theatre business, but Lennox convinced his corporate bosses that this kind of move was why they lured him away from Universal in the first place.
Taking Bell Media out of its comfort zone “was very appealing,” says Lennox, who had the background — and the connections — for this “marriage of music.”
Bat Out of Hell — The Musical will preview in Manchester starting in February 2017 before opening next June at the historic London Coliseum.
There’s talk that a Toronto run is also in the works. Next October marks the 40th anniversary of the original album’s release. Not a bad occasion to launch a musical, one producer speculated.
All of this is music to the ears of Meat Loaf, who joined the show’s young star Andrew Polec in London this week to promote the musical. Polec plays Strat, the rebellious youth at the centre of a passionate love story.
“This has been Jim Steinman’s dream for 50 years,” says Meat Loaf, who just released a new album of Steinman tunes, Braver Than We Are.
He recalls that Bat Out of Hell was a tough sell to record companies in the mid-’70s.
“It was like nothing else at the time,” he says. The singer’s operatic range and the self-deprecating lyrics — qualities more suited to musical theatre — were seen as radio repellent.
The music manager who finally landed the deal, David Sonenberg (also a producer of the musical), quips that “they were starting record companies just to turn us down.”
Bat Out of Hell went on to set the industry record for worldwide sales of a debut album. With television becoming ultracompetitive and less predictable, Bell feels it’s betting on a proven property.
It also hasn’t escaped Lennox that live, musical makeovers are hot properties on broadcasters such as NBC and Fox. His money, however, is on Bat Out of Hell soaring on stage rather than on TV.
If it eventually does just so-so as a TV property, Cohl and Lennox will be the ones singing, “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad.” Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton. While in London, Brioux was a guest of Bell Media.
Meat Loaf’s 1977 album featured Paradise by the Dashboard Light and Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad. Leading the new Meat Loaf show Bat Out Of Hell — The Musical cast are Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington.