Interview: Andrew Polec & Christina Bennington
Following a host of 5-star reviews, Jim Steinman‘s Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical recently announced it was extending its season at the Manchester Opera House by a further three weeks, now running through to 29 April, 2017.
Shortly after the announcement, we caught up with the exceptional Andrew Polec and Christina Bennington, who star in the show’s hugely demanding central roles of Strat and Raven.
How did you both get involved in the production?
Christina: I went through a fairly normal audition process which lasted about a couple of weeks. I got the audition through my agent, did lots of recalls, signed lots of stuff, did an amazing movement workshop and then, very surprisingly, got offered the job.
Andrew: I was making my way in New York City, not really knowing exactly what was coming next. I was there for about two months, I was going to a lot of open calls and all of a sudden somebody told me about the open call for Bat Out of Hell, but at the time I wasn’t sure if it was a Meat Loaf musical or not. Someone said they were just using the name and it was based on something totally different. Anyway, I went over to the audition venue, saw the breakdown and it said Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell, and I thought ‘my gosh‘ I really want to audition for this. So I took a big floor tom drum along with me which was about half the size of my body and took it into the audition room. Usually people just bring guitars, hand their sheet music over to the pianist and play along, but I walk in there with this big drum and can barely fit through the door. The casting director looked at me like I was a crazy nut, but she liked what I sang, and about two weeks later I got another audition and further call backs. I did the American workshop in New York City about year ago, which was only in front of producers, but they liked me so much that they wanted to bring me over here, and I met this wonderful, wonderful person sitting here with me. I feel very, very lucky.
As a Philadelphia native, have the British audiences surprised you at all?
Andrew: I’m so consistently surprised by the Mancunians. What I love about them so much – and obviously this is just my interpretation – it seems like they wear their hearts on their sleeves, and as much joy and energy as our team is pumping out to the audience, they are giving it back two fold or more at every performance. They sing along, go wild at all the big numbers and it’s really just a pleasure to perform for them, meet them at the stage door and get to know them.
Christina: My experiences of Manchester audiences, and Northern audiences in general, is that they’re just very honest, so you really know what they think; that’s why it means so much getting such a massive reaction from them night after night and hearing their opinions afterwards.
When did you first know the show was a major hit?
Christina: Well I start the show lying down upstairs, in the darkness, waiting for the end of Andrew’s opening speech, and I just remember being very nervous and full of adrenaline, and hearing the audience scream and go wild after just the first line; it was just amazing.
Andrew: I don’t think we had any idea of how it would come across to audiences, and then we got to that first night and they just screamed so loud that it felt like the roof was about to collapse.
Do you feel the show has the commercial appeal of the likes of We Will Rock You and other jukebox musicals?
Christina: I think the music appeals to so many different types of people, and it’s almost unfair to compare it to We Will Rock you, as although it is essentially a ‘jukebox’ musical, and rock musical, the difference with Bat Out of Hell is that it was always intended to be a musical; the songs haven’t just been put together to capitalise on the success of the album. Effectively, the album came because the musical didn’t so that’s what makes it so different and unique. I think it’s the heart of this show that appeals to everyone. Even people who don’t know the music come away thinking it sounds familiar and resonates, as the emotions and themes are just so relatable. Also, we’re doing a lot of things that are new to the musical theatre canon and trying things that haven’t really been done on stage at all, so again all those aspects appeal to a wider array of theatregoers who are seeing something completely new on stage.
Do you remember when you first heard Meat Loaf’s music? Was it something you grow up listening to it?
Christina: It was always music that I knew as my dad would play the songs in the car on long journeys, but it’s so different coming back now and listening to them as an adult; there’s a depth that I probably didn’t appreciate back then.
Andrew: I would consider it one of those life changing albums from my teenage years. I was a big sports kid, I played a lot of lacrosse and I didn’t really think much about musicals and theatre, but one day I was going down a hill very fast on my bicycle – almost like a bat out of hell – and I crashed, got into a terrible accident, and was in the emergency room for five days. After that I was told I couldn’t do contact sports for a year, so I didn’t really know what to do with my life or where to put my energy; I’d always planned on getting a sports scholarship and becoming a doctor. Then one day when I was recovering my dad played me Paradise by the Dashboard Light, and I just fell in love with the song and eventually the whole album. That’s when I decided that I wanted to do music and rock and roll full time. It was one of those pinnacle moments in my life.
What were your earliest theatre memories and when did you realise this was the career you wanted to pursue?
Christina: I think I’ve always been interested in the theatre. I was a fairly loud child, there are lots of home videos of me being very attention seeking, but I did a lot of classical music and classical singing when I was younger so it was probably not until my mid teens that I realised I was interested in musical theatre. I loved the dance element aside from just classical music. When I was about twelve or thirteen I saw Mary Poppins with Laura Michelle Kelly, and I was absolutely blown away by her. I just think she’s so classy and such a wonderful performer ; I think it saw it four or five times. That was one for me which was just so magical, beautiful and larger than life, but I think there are so many shows that have brought something different to me.
Andrew: As a kid I was definitely taken to New York City to see a lot of shows, and I think it was Beauty and the Beast that really entranced me. The kid who played chip fascinated me – you couldn’t see the rest of his body – and for the whole show I couldn’t figure out where his body had gone. I was really excited when he ran on stage at the end and he was a full-bodied person again.
Now you’ve both done a lot of theatre work in the past. How does this production compare? Can you compare it?
Christina: I don’t think this production really compares to anything that has been done before, not in the UK, and certainly not on this kind of scale. There’s nothing really comparative to the multimedia elements and set surprises that have been included. Vocally it’s very different too; I didn’t really sing much of the score until the rehearsal process so it’s just been a big learning process, and it still is; I’m still learning new things in this genre of music.
It’s a hugely demanding show, how do you prepare yourself for each performance? How do you look after and maintain you voice?
Andrew: Carefully! I’ve learned that a light warm-up is always good, so you save all the big, heavy-hitting punches for the stage. Then of course you’ve got to warm it down, otherwise who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow!
Christina: Plenty of water. We just really look after ourselves.
How did the production alter from previews to opening night? Were you surprised by any of the changes made?
Christina: They were fast and furious. There were big changes, there were small changes, but they were all very quick.
Andrew: We’ve cut entire songs and added a completely new one. We move at a wildly fast pace!
Are you prepared for the changes in advance? Do you know what might happen?
Christina: Basically we turn up on the day and we’re told there and then, unless it’s something drastic for which you need to be pre-warned. The good thing about it is that it really keeps you on your toes, and there still hasn’t really been one show the same as the others; that’s what is so amazing about it. We were often performing things during the daytime that wouldn’t be in the show until the following day which was quite a challenge.
Andrew: There’s going to be another change tonight.
Christina: Is there?
Andrew: Yes … but it doesn’t involve you.
Christina: There you go … there’s a good example.
When you hear this music sung by the full company, does it give you a new appreciation of Meat Loaf to think that he sung the full score all by himself for years on end?
Andrew: I think I always appreciate what Meat Loaf has done and achieved. He was the astronaut that landed on the moon first … now we’re all just following in his footsteps.
Did Meat Loaf have much involvement during the pre-production stage?
Andrew: He came around and talked to us a lot during the promotion week back in November. He just had a lot of great advice to share and he was so very supportive of his best friend, Jim Steinman.
How involved was Jim Steinman throughout the rehearsal process and previews?
Christina: Very heavily!
Andrew: He was like big brother watching us on Skype.
Christina: We had the lovely Barry Keating with us throughout rehearsals, filming and relaying images, so Jim would be watching live via laptop then give notes and feedback externally.
Andrew: As a playwright and creator, I think he mostly wanted to change dialogue to really suit the people portraying these characters.
Did Jay Scheib (director) have a clear vision for your characters or did you have a bit of freedom to play around and develop them yourselves?
Andrew: I think we all explore as we’re all trying to build this child together. Sometimes it goes in a certain direction and people need to step back and look at it again. Otherwise we were welcome to take risks because if anyone was trusted to understand these characters the best it was the people playing them.
Christina: We were really trusted. You’d think that in such a massive, commercial venture you’d be told exactly what to do, but it was the opposite. We were allowed to just play around … and we still are; we’re still exploring and developing these characters as things grow and move forward.
The chemistry between Strat and Raven is crucial to the show’s success. How easy was that to develop? Did you get to know each other before rehearsals began?
Andrew: We met for the first time during a photo shoot.
Christina: First day we ever met we had to do a super close photo shoot … but Andrew is a dream to work with so it’s very easy.
Andrew: … and Christina is an absolute dream!
Christina: As long as we give each other enough support it makes things very, very easy.
There’s been a lot of speculation about an original cast recording? Are we likely to see one anytime soon?
Andrew: … We don’t really know just yet.
Christina: We know there’s definitely one planned at some point, but we’ve not recorded anything as of yet.
Andrew: … We haven’t been told any more than that.
Bat Out Of Hell – The Musical runs at the Opera House, Manchester until 29 April, transferring to the London Coliseum from 5 June and currently booking to 22 July.
For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.
Images by Specular