MUSICAL GOES BATTY

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By Barry Hertz

Jay Thomas Schramek spits a lot when he talks–it’s not easy speaking when you’re wearing prosthetic fangs.

“Bat Boy had fangs all his life, so I want to make sure I’m comfortable with them too,” says Schramek, while taking a break from rehearsing his lead role in the new Toronto musical Bat Boy.

“Look here, I have a navel! It means I’m someone’s child,” sings Schramek, pointing to his belly button.

Then, in the span of another five-minute scene, he starts a polite conversation, bites another character’s neck, and breaks into song once more. For the Ryerson grad, it’s just another day of rehearsals.

Schramek, 27, graduated from Ryerson’s theatre program in 1998, and has quickly risen through the ranks of Toronto’s theatre community. After graduating, Schramek was soon cast in Stratford’s production of West Side Story, which nurtured his affinity for musical theatre. “Some actors who come through the theatre schools think musical theatre is selling out as a performer,” he says. “But, I’ve learned a lot about the core craft, and can augment it through musical theatre.”

Schramek showed an interest in the performing arts from an early age–mostly as a way for the shy student to meet girls. “When I was six, all the dance classes I saw only had girls,” he says, wiping the sweat from his brow. “I thought, forget hockey, this is for me.'”

The beyond-quirky Bat Boy is a significant departure from the traditional musical theatre Schramek has performed, most notably in Mamma Mia. Bat Boy, originally an off-Broadway musical, is based on the urban myth of a half-man, half-bat creature and his struggle to fit into society.

“Bat Boy is not a feel-good musical, it’s much darker,” says Schramek, who without fangs in his mouth has a comforting, jeans-and-T-shirt style. “It’s part of a genre trying to bridge the gap between downtown musicals and start-up productions.”

While Bat Boy has been a smash in the UK and New York, Schramek just hopes Toronto audiences will warm up to something a bit more out of the ordinary. “I’m thrilled to be a part of the different kind of work that needs to be showcased,” he says, heeding his director’s cue to come back to the stage. “I just hope audiences will feel the same.”

Bat Boy opens Feb. 22 at the Bathurst Street Theatre. Find more info at Batboy.ca and Jaytschramek.com

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