Once upon a time in 1966 the craziest thing happened. It was, at the time, perhaps more crazy than a musical version of Spiderman. The number one superhero, perhaps even the number one American popular culture creation next to Mickey Mouse, finally hit Broadway in a musical. It was nearly inevitable after conquering comics, radio, movies and TV that Superman would conquer Broadway. He didn’t make it, for after 129 performances the show It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman! closed. No one knew what to make of it and perhaps that’s still true to a great extent, but I’ve been a fan since I got my hands on the old cast recording when I was a teen and committed the groovy Vegas infused score to heart. The show doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t have anything serious to say, even though it embraces topical social and political issues, and it doesn’t tell the story of Superman himself. Rather, the comic book world of Superman is used as a pallet for a rollicking, nonsensical good time.
I found this out when seeing a wonderful fully staged production some twenty years ago in California, where the musical “Superman” proved its worth to me beyond a doubt. Yes it is easy to see how such a frivolous piece of fluff wouldn’t win a long run on Broadway, but in a short run for a regional theatre production and thankfully, a New York City Center, Encores! production, the musical “Superman” is a fun night out.
Many things delight in John Rando’s production. First and foremost as always is the wonderful full orchestra conducted by the dynamic Rob Berman. The orchestra sits within the comic inspired city of Metropolis set by John Lee Beatty that spells fun from the downbeat. There is the comically inspired David Pittu as Dr. Abner Sedgwick, a mad scientist out for revenge. There is the silver voiced Will Swenson as the smarmy Max. Alli Mauzey is a tiny powerhouse of talent belting out “You’ve Got Possibilities” and Jenny Powers is an admirable Lois Lane with a lovely way with a song. Edward Watts is made up to look just like the comic book Superman we collectively remember with just the right tone to send up the character without doing him a disservice. Best of all is the acrobatic “Flying Lings,” who seemed to have come straight from the circus to flip and fly about the stage in amazing ways. The entire cast seems to have a blast dancing Joshua Bergasse’s groovy choreography. The dancing also pops thanks to Paul Tazewell’s colorful period costumes.
One has to be pretty cynical to not be able to understand that the musical “Superman” is about escape into a ridiculous world of mindless fun. I say mindless, but the authors have come up with smart humor, smart lyrics and tuneful music. The culprits are Charles Strouse (music), Lee Adams (lyrics), and David Newman and Robert Benton (book), as well as Hal Prince who had to pull the insanity together into a tight ball of entertainment. It is not often that “Superman” gets produced and there is that issue of the flying and probably the history that the show was a flop on Broadway, but that is neither here nor there in the scheme of things today. “Superman” should be pulled out often, embraced, and enjoyed, for it is as worthy as the best fluff that Broadway has ever put out.
For more information and tickets go to www.nycitycenter.org.