Bat Out of Hell: The Musical makes its off-Broadway debut this week with Bucks County native Andrew Polec in the starring role as Strat, an eternal teenager in a fantastical, futuristic world, belting hits from Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf’s seminal 1977 rock LP.
Not coincidentally, Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf first created Bat Out of Hell as a dystopian musical. When that didn’t work out, Philly’s Todd Rundgren stepped in, and created one of the best-selling albums of all time. The work now comes full circle at the New York City Center (through Sept. 8).
At its heart and helm is fresh-faced, fairly ripped Polec, whose Heldentenor voice bears a strong resemblance to Meat Loaf’s.
And there’s something else in Polec that’s familiar to Philadelphians of a certain TV news-watching age. His last name, his wild blond hair, and his big, wild eyes are a dead giveaway. He’s the one and only child of the one and only Don Polec, the former 6ABC reporter known for “Don Polec’s World.”
Considering his parentage, it’s no surprise that the young Polec happened into his career by literal accident, or that he wore SpongeBob gear and toted a huge drum to his audition. Here, the performer explains all this, along with what it was like to grow up in Don Polec’s world.
Growing up, I always got to experience the best parts of Philadelphia. I remember going to see chef Joe Poon, who would create these artistic food concepts that you would feel so bad eating because they were so beautiful, but they were so delicious. My dad would give me a first peek at new things at the Franklin Institute. He opened my world to know there were so many endless possibilities.
He also took a lot of home videos. Being the amazing editor and storyteller that he is, he would always go above and beyond. When I was 4 or 5, I wanted to teach my parents Power Ranger moves. My dad made a whole video of me doing the moves, spliced with actual scenes from the Power Rangers TV show. I look back on my childhood memories and go, ‘Wow, I was really, really loved.’
Throughout elementary school, throughout middle school, throughout high school, everyone was like, ‘You should be funny and entertaining, like your dad.’ So, for better or for worse — but mostly for better — I was supposed to be more of a ham or more extroverted or more outgoing and curious about the world in every shape and form.
But I originally wanted to go into sports. I was a big lacrosse player. I thought if I could play lacrosse, I could definitely get a scholarship, and I’d go on to be a doctor or an inventor or maybe a lawyer.
I don’t know if it was fate, or if the universe gave me a smack. In the summer before ninth grade, not unlike the song “Bat Out of Hell,” I was going down a hill really fast on my bicycle with my dad riding behind me, and you know the Pennsylvania back roads … I saw a car at the end of a blind turn, kind of like in the song.
I never saw anything else. The front brake locked. I flew over the handlebars [but managed to avoid the car] and blacked out. After five days in CHOP’s trauma unit, the doctor saw I couldn’t walk in a straight line. She said I couldn’t do contact sports anymore.
That’s when my dad introduced me to music, started showing me rock groups, and my mom, a theater teacher, started teaching me songs from musicals. When my dad showed me Meat Loaf’s song “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” I thought, this song is insane; it’s just like this monster of a story. Meat Loaf is an Olympian of the voice. And it clicked: You can be an athlete of art.
I didn’t follow the path of starting out singing at age 6. I first sang in the choir of my school [Central Bucks East] after the accident. They gave me a solo, and I didn’t know why. After my mom heard it, she was like, ‘Hey, you can sing.’
I thought as long as you were able to talk, you could sing. But she was like, ‘No, you can really sing.’ After that, I would be in bands. I would be in theater productions at my school.
I went to a little arts college up in Rochester, N.Y., where I tried to follow the premed path. My grades were great, but I wasn’t having any fun. So, I started a rock band up. I started a student-run record label. I was part of an experimental theater group, something I had never done before.
That was the first time where a director was like, ‘Are you comfortable getting fully naked on stage?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it. What’s there to lose?’
My mother and father raised me to always explore — not to put myself in uncomfortable situations, but to find an extreme situation that I could be comfortable with, that I could grow into. That’s how my dad always did his stories. That’s how he made things relatable.
The first time my dad got a features reporter job up in Buffalo, he took a risk. Instead of sending out a resume, he sent out a wanted poster, like you’d see in the Wild West, that basically described all of his positive features and attributes. He chose to think outside of the box.
When I walked into the Meat Loaf audition, I was coming from the SpongeBob audition, and I had on a SpongeBob T-shirt and a SpongeBob backpack. Everyone else was wearing leather jackets and leather belts. I also lugged in a big red floor tom, a drum that’s half the size of your body. I banged away on the drum as I sang.