Batboy: It’s a BEAST of a show
Meeting Luke Fredericks – currently directing Batboy which begins previews at the Southwark Playhouse tonight, 9th January 2015 – is unforgettable. Full of energy and passion, it’s a privilege to meet this ebullient young director, whose recent production of Carousel, New York Times critic Ben Brantley described as fresh and feisty during its sell-out run at the Arcola Theatre. That’s quite a compliment – Brantley’s reviews are legendary and a single bad review from him alone has been known to close a Broadway Show.
Batboy is quite a departure for Fredericks. First performed Off Broadway in 2001, it won New York’s Outer Critics Circle and Lucille Lortel Awards for Best Off-Broadway Musical. It received its UK premiere in 2004 at West Yorkshire Playhouse prior to a short West End run at the Shaftesbury Theatre. Since then, it has developed a cult following.
We met with Luke to ask if that’s enough to make it a hit in London second time around?
Luke: Absolutely. It’s all about where you take the audience. Batboy is a funny, moving, and at times unashamedly camp piece of Musical Theatre with a fantastic pop/rock score. It’s the tale of a half-boy-half-bat found in a cave, but that’s just the starting point. He’s taken in by a small, tight-knit community in America’s bible-belt. Batboy forces the town to look at itself through fresh eyes. The show is about society and how outsiders are treated. It’s a story with real heart and a universal message, but most of all its just riotous fun. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2cuxmFMbrs#t=13
And what attracted you to the project?
Luke: Following the success of Carousel, we were approached by a producer, Paul Taylor-Mills who liked what we’d done with a classic musical, and asked us to come on board at the Southwark Playhouse.
Luke: By we, I mean Morphic Graffiti, the production company I founded with Stewart Charlesworth. With Batboy my producer hat is off – allowing me to focus on directing and Stewart to concentrate on design. I was so proud of what we achieved with Carousel – Batboy is a complete departure and that’s very exciting!
So how did Morphic Graffiti come into being?
Luke: I’d been performing for some years when I played Lord Mountararat in an all-male Iolanthe at Wilton’s Music Hall. It was through Iolanthe that I met producer Hilary Williams. I already knew by then that I wanted to create theatre as well as perform in it – I took a leap into the darkness by staging a production Jekyll & Hyde at the Union Theatre, Southwark. That was a real heart-in-the-mouth gamble and Stewart (Charlesworth) and I funded the entire production. It was through a conversation with Hilary that I found out about the Stage One Bursary for new producers. Morphic Graffiti was the production company Stewart and I formed, and through Stage One, we were able to apply for funding for our next show, The Revenge of Sherlock Holmes at Hoxton Music Hall. It was a crazy time. Especially when we ended up working with Leslie Bricusse…
THE Leslie Bricusse, as in Victor/Victoria?
Luke: Yes, as in Scrooge, Doctor Dolittle, Goldfinger and so many other amazing songs and shows. It was quite humbling. He liked our Jekyll & Hyde and allowed us to use additional material for The Revenge of Sherlock Holmes, which hadn’t ever been performed. Leslie Bricusse is a Musical Theatre legend, so even to meet him was an honour.
Are there any other big names you would like to work with one day?
Luke: I’m lucky to already be working with some incredible performers. I’d have to think of performances that have really moved me – two really stand out. Nathan Lane, who I saw on Broadway in The Producers, is just incredible. And Tracie Bennett’s performance as Judy Garland in Over The Rainbow was outstanding. In both cases, it’s their ability to connect with an audience – that “in the moment” presence which the greatest performers bring. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJo_1U0F0QA
And what’s next for you?
Luke: Right now, it’s all about Batboy. It’s a crazy whirlwind and such an exciting time. I do have a couple of projects ahead including a workshop of a new piece of writing which I can’t divulge – top secret (he smiles).
If you could produce/direct any show in the future, what would that be?
Luke: I love new work, but if I were to think about existing shows? Without a doubt, Next To Normal, which is such a stunning piece of writing. And I do have a soft spot for Chess.
Do you think you’d ever go back to performing?
Luke: I love being on stage, but what I do now gives me such a creative buzz. I get to work with so many truly amazing people, and you just can’t beat that.
And if you hadn’t gone into Theatre?
Luke: I honestly don’t think I’d want to work in any other world. If I did, it would have to be something working with people. Possibly somewhere near a beach. In the sunshine. For a couple of hours a day. Are there jobs where you can do that? (another smile)
Finally, any advice for your younger self?
Luke: Hm. If I could tell myself anything, it would be when I was fresh out of Drama School. I’d tell myself not to get so stressed, not to worry so much about the future. I’d tell myself that sometimes life has a way of working things out. Then again, Batboy’s first preview is tomorrow night. So right now, it’s all about worry and stress…and I probably wouldn’t listen. 09.01.2015 Bat Boy: The Musical Southwark Playhouse 77-85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD 9 – 31 January 2015 120 Minutes including Interval Price £22 – Concessions £18 – All previews £12 Online Booking http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/the-large/bat-boy-the-musical/ By Telephone Call 020 7407 0234 (Mon – Fri, 9am – 6.30pm) In Person The Ticket Office at Southwark Playhouse opens in person from 9am Monday – Friday and from 1pm on Saturday.