Meat Loaf rock clas­sic be­comes a mu­si­cal

Bell Me­dia ven­tures into live theatre with pro­duc­tion of Bat Out of Hell

Toronto Star - - ENTERTAINMENT - BILL BRIOUX THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

SPECULAR/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.

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