- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

As the half-bat, half-boy, wholly misunderstood star character in the musical "Bat Boy," Patrick O'Neill exudes an enchanting aura of tenderness, vulnerability and horror.
Backstage during a recent interview, Mr. O'Neill cheerfully shows us how that magic is made with rubber Spock ears, Halloween vampire teeth and a dab of Fixodent.
These humble examples of greasepaint notwithstanding, Mr. O'Neill definitely has the makings of a star at the tender age of 20 and still a junior at Catholic University, where he is pursuing a degree in music. His outrageous and sensitive portrayal of the Bat Boy in the musical at Studio Theatre has audiences murmuring, "Who is that kid, and where did he come from?"
You wonder if theatergoers felt the same excitement and sense of discovery when Kevin Spacey or Dustin Hoffman appeared in the roles that got them noticed.
There is no doubt that Mr. O'Neill knows this is his lucky break, and he is riding it for all it's worth.
"It's a gift; that's all I keep saying, even though I know it is a cliche," he says. He looks pretty chipper for someone who has just finished final exams while performing five shows a week in the physically demanding role that has him hanging upside down from scaffolding while hitting some rock-star high notes that would do Meat Loaf proud.
"It's a breakneck pace for two and a half hours there is seven-part harmony and a cast of 10, and I have four costume changes in the first act alone," he says. "But I love it we all just get out there and hang on for dear life."
Mr. O'Neill was doing summer stock in Maine when he heard that Studio was casting for "Bat Boy." Serge Sieden, Studio's assistant artistic director, "called me and said, 'When can you get to D.C.?' And I had just been there at the Kennedy Center performing with Barbara Cook for the Sondheim Celebration, so I had to tell him I wouldn't be back until the end of August," he recalls. "I came back to school, and Serge called. 'Can you get here tomorrow?'"
Mr. O'Neill did and used a song from the musical "Footloose" for his audition. "I am the whitest guy I know, and this was my idea of rock and roll," Mr. O'Neill says with a laugh.
"I wore torn jeans, moussed my hair a bit and hoped I came off like a rocker from the 1980s."
The waiting period seemed to go on forever, but Mr. O'Neill received the call shortly before Columbus Day.
"I was with one of my teachers when they offered me the part," he says. "It was a great day. Catholic U has been incredibly supportive I had to drop a few classes and so have the students. One of my classmates saw the show and said, 'Do you know what an amazing showcase this is? You get to show people you can sing more than standard Broadway fare.'"
To perform the rock-inflected score, Mr. O'Neill had to retrain his baritone voice to be a high tenor. "It was a challenge to say, 'In a month I'll be able to hit that note.' I just tried to make it as 'Jesus Christ Superstar' as I could. The music is not Rodgers and Hammerstein or Gilbert and Sullivan, whom I love; it is less traditional and vocally more strenuous at times. You just gotta go out there and deliver the songs, just shred them."
To prepare for the role, he spent a lot of time at the bat exhibit at the National Zoo "it was so cool to be there, with the bats and the dramatic lighting and everything" and fell back on his classic training in dance to build up stamina.
"I studied tap, ballet and jazz from the age of 10 on, and I love dancing," he says, but adds, "Dancers don't get to be bats."
Mr. O'Neill must be doing something right, because the show is selling out most nights and has been extended until Dec. 29. "Bat Boy" was a cult hit in New York, and there is a Web site, www.batboy-themusical.com, where people have written comments about the Studio production.
"I stopped reading the postings because they freaked me out," Mr. O'Neill says. "Some theatergoers have had trouble with the show because it is not a carbon copy of the New York production. They are the same as 'Rent'-heads or the fans of the musical 'Jekyll and Hyde.' You can't worry too much about that stuff."
He does get a kick out of the people who come to "Bat Boy" performances in bat wings and glitter. "There is apparently quite a cult built around people who love bats," he says.
"A man came from Kentucky last weekend to see the show, and he came backstage afterward and asked if I would sign his copy of the 'Bat Boy' tabloid," Mr. O'Neill says, referring to a story in the Weekly World News in 1992 about a sighting in West Virginia of a half-boy, half-bat creature.
"He presented me with this old, crumbling yellow newspaper an original copy of the story. I signed it, and then we had our picture taken with his girlfriend."
Last weekend also brought a man in a bat hat from the New York "Bat Boy" who sat in the front row and sang along. "At one point, I gave him a 'thumbs-up, buddy,'" Mr. O'Neill says. "It was so funny he was mouthing all the words, everybody's roles, not just mine."
Mr. O'Neill's mother came to see the show Thanksgiving weekend, not knowing her son is nude and hanging from the rafters in the opening scenes. He recounts: "She said 'I did see your bum, but it was tastefully done.' And she loved the show."
Mr. O'Neill plans to go home to Providence, R.I., for Christmas and then return to the show for the closing weekend. After that, he'll be back to reality; he has his junior thesis recital in March.
"It has been every collegiate artist's dream to see if I could do it, be in a professional production and keep my head above water," he says, "but I am looking forward to a few low-key months."

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