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From Homer in the classroom to Meat Loaf on stage

September 29, 2017
three performers singing on stageAndrew Polec '12 (left) as Strat in Bat Out of Hell: The Musicial at the National Theatre in London. (Specular photo)

There’s a fire in Andrew Polec ’12 (KEY), and it was kindled at Rochester. The former Midnight Rambler—who studied music and English, and participated in the International Theatre Program—is now finding professional success as Strat, the lead in Bat Out of Hell: The Musical, which just ended an extended summer run in London. The show makes its North American debut in Toronto on October 14.

Featuring the music and lyrics of composer Jim Steinman, the musical takes fans on a trip back to one of the best-selling albums of all time—first made famous by Meat Loaf (the stage name of musician, producer, and actor Michael Lee Aday), whose operatic performance of larger-than-life songs set a high bar for its new lead. It’s a challenge Polec gladly accepted.

“It takes such focus and such commitment to fully give yourself to these songs,” he says. “Meat Loaf’s advice: ‘Make these songs your own.’”

The show synopsis describes the story as a “romantic adventure about rebellious youth and passionate love, set against the backdrop of a post-cataclysmic city adrift from the mainland.” Polec, who uses a vision board each night to inspire his performances, invokes the rebellious nature of such rock music icons as Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, and Elvis Presley.

A native of Philadelphia, Polec started out following a premed program. He completed two clusters in biology and psychology before he began taking music, English, and theater courses. He was a Midnight Rambler during the period when the a capella ensemble was chosen to record with Ben Folds for the singer-songwriter’s album Ben Folds Presents: University A Capella! He performed in the International Theatre Program productions at Todd Theater, including Hello Again during his first year, and Adding Machine: A Musical during his final year. Polec took voice lessons at the Eastman School of Music and was part of the Music Department’s Rock Repertory Ensemble. He was accepted into the Kauffman Entrepreneurial Year (KEY) Program, spending a fifth, tuition-free year at the University to start a student-run record label and release an album.

large group of performers standing around a microphone

Polec (center) records with singer Ben Folds (left) and fellow Midnight Ramblers in December of 2008. (University of Rochester photo / Richard Baker)

A pivotal moment for Polec came during a literature course—Classical and Scriptural Backgrounds— taught by Professor Emeritus Russell Peck. “I was just blown away by his theatrics and storytelling,” Polec says, recalling in particular a lecture on Homer’s Iliad. “As he described the narrative of Achilles’s rage, in that moment, as he destroys the Trojan army, I thought, ‘this is what I’m missing.’ I wanted to make people invested in the story [in a way] that takes them out of their lives.”

One of Polec’s mentors, Kim Kowalke, says, “I got to know how special a talent he was.” Kowalke—a professor of music and the Richard L. Turner Professor in the Humanities at the College, as well as a professor of musicology at Eastman—remembers Polec’s audition for Musical Theater Workshop, as jaw dropping. “He was not only charismatic, but he was one of those people who was such a risk taker. If you said, ‘That was nice Andrew, but why don’t you sing the same number and do somersaults across the room while you’re doing it, he would have done it—or he would have tried to do it.”

Kowalke visited his former student in the UK during the preview of the show at the London Coliseum in June. He says Polec remains a risk taker, to great effect. “There is nothing more exciting than a performer willing to take risks. It means they’re right on the edge, and that is spellbinding in the theater.”

Polec is looking forward to the show’s Toronto run. “I’m so excited to be coming back to my time zone,” he says. “I’ll be closer to my alma mater; close to the place that taught me so much.”

What’s in store for Polec’s future? “I would like to work on things that bring joy to people – in the way that arts can,” he says. “Not knowing my path, but ending up where I’m at right now, by using all the tools that I used from the professors and the groups that I was part of, it just feels fated.”

 

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Category: The Arts