June 23, 2010: Early Report from Dallas Theater's Superman Musical

Superman Musical By Steven W Eden.

On Sunday, June 20, my wife, two friends and I found ourselves the guests of the Dallas Theater Center (DTC) for the final preview showing of "It's a Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superman!"

How did we score comp tickets? Interesting story, glad you asked. As it was, I first heard that this revival was on tap for the final production of the DTC's season right here - on the Superman Homepage (Thank you, Steve Younis). My only exposure to this opus was a DVD of the awful ABC-TV special production of the Superman musical. Still, I was interested from the get-go, and mentioned to my wife how great the experience might be. She loves the theater, yet we hadn't found the time to make it out to see live acting (not counting my grandchildren at bedtime) in a quite a while. Even after I showed her the previously mentioned DVD, she still gave her blessing. Despite the horror of having to leave the benign slower pace of Fort Worth to brave the Dallas Motor Speedway that is the streets of Big D, we decided to go.

Cut to months later...

The play was in rehearsal, the PR releases were coming out fast and furious and it was time to see about ticket prices.

Ugh.

No problem if it weren't for some life changes since the first, "Yes, Dear, we can go." I was laid off from my TV job two years ago (thank you, CBS), but the La-la-la-lovely Linda was still making good money in her job as a physician assistant. Just prior to this month, however, things occurred that necessitated her leaving this job and seeking new employment elsewhere, putting a strain on our financial well-being. $40 to $80 tickets were out of the question and I gave her the bad news.

I put the thought out of my mind, but she did not. Unknown to me, there was a Fathers' Day contest being conducted by the DTC to find "SuperDad." Her essay, which made me sound so much better than real life, won us four tickets to the Fathers' Day performance. This news didn't get to us until the 18th, not much time to find two theater loving friends to fill the extra seats. Perseverance, however, won out and we were set to go.

The drive to Dallas was a relatively easy one - not the norm for Big Town, but it was Sunday evening. Linda picked up the tickets at will call and we lingered in the lobby until the curtain time. While we waited, Linda met a nice young lady by the name of K.C. who had come to Dallas for a friend's wedding, but was a fan girl and just had to see the play. She mentioned that she was going to blog about it for a website. Since I had learned the Superman Homepage had a critique covered, I asked her for which site she was writing. "FantasticFangirls.org," she answered. I mentioned I was sending something to SupermanHomepage.com that may or may not get published and we compared notes. By the way, K.C. is a daily visitor to the Superman Homepage (Hi, K.C.!). She was unfamiliar with the '66 incarnation of the play, and I filled her in on the history behind it.

The new play began with a brief origin of our hero and a brief look at life in 1930s Smallville. Here we find Pa Kent giving the exact same speech that Glen Ford gave Chris Reeve in "Superman: The Movie." As the production continued, it was obvious that the original story for the play had been almost completely 86ed. Gone were the "mob guys" and that angle. Characters Max Menken and Professor Sedgewick were changed to represent Lex Luthor and Professor Hamilton. Other characters were added to represent Jimmy Olsen, Toyman, and the Newsboy Legion. Numerous references to things not included in the original play were introduced such as Brainiac and the bottled city of Kandor. At intermission, I ran into K.C. again and she asked me why Lex, Jimmy, Cat Grant, et al had these different names. I explained that I had read DC/Warner Bros. did not want any other of their copyrighted characters attached to this play who weren't in the original version.

The story was similar to the original in that:

  • Superman has become the most loved person in Metropolis.
  • Bad guy is jealous of that.
  • Bad guy finds Superman's weakness.
  • Superman is out of action.
  • Crime in the city becomes rampant.
  • Superman returns to action.
  • Superman saves the day.

    The biggest difference is that the original was set "in the present" (1966). This new story was set in 1939. In my opinion, this was the key to making the play more enjoyable. That and for the most part, it was played "straight." Many things from other Superman media efforts were used in homage. Lois refers to Clark as "Smallville," but, thankfully, was used only once. Lois wears a pillbox hat after intermission and Max calls our attention to it (a wink to The Adventures of Superman TV show). There was even a reference for the "Smallville" crowd about a "red and blue blur" in the sky.

    The costume Superman wears is a copy of the Joe Shuster costume from Action Comics #1 (although here was missed a great chance to salute Lois & Clark when Sydney asks him where did he get that costume anyway? - on L&C, Superman answered "My mom made it." I thought it would've been great there, but Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who re-wrote the new story) must have decided enough was enough and had Superman just glare back at Sydney). Also during one scene in Clark's apartment, he carries a costume and hangs it in an armoire, but it is a modern day costume instead of the 1939 vintage. In fact, I almost laughed out loud when I realized this and the other costumes in the closet were the same as the Halloween costume I had bought and used just a few years ago (still got it, too)!

    As mentioned, the "mob" was no longer in the show. Instead, a rogues gallery of costumed villains joined Max/Lex in his plan to bring down Big Blue with synthetic K (nod to Superman III with Robert Vaughn and Richard Pryor).

    I need to say little more about the plot as everyone KNOWS who prevails in the end.

    But on to music! And the music was great! Some songs from the original play were used but some such as "Revenge!" (one of the few really good ones) were dropped simply because they just no longer "fit." Charles Strouse and Lee Adams were commissioned to write four new songs to make it all work. The music was re-arranged to a more big band 30's style (the dance number at the Metropolis Man of the Year scene was the cat's meow!). Of the actors that sung, Jennifer Powers stood out the most. Her character (Sydney) sang the best song of the '66 effort and again in this one. I think this is still the best song of the show, but thanks to the re-tooling of the music and the story, the songs all seem to work much better.

    Matt Cavanaugh handles the title roll well. Not too "aw, shucks" and not too full of himself, he finds just the right "in between" to make the audience love the Amazing Alien. His voice is a pretty steady tenor that is more than capable of pulling off the singing duties.

    Lois Lane was played by Zakia Young, who had the pipes to deliver her melodies quite nicely. Her Lois was a driven, tenacious, ready-to-go-to-any-length-to-get-the-story reporter. In other words, her performance reflected nicely with the Lois Lane we've come to expect. Ms. Young is African-American, and I mention this only because some time ago an African-American actress (nice alliteration) was once discussed as a possible Lois in the last Superman movie before Bryan Singer became involved, and I remember it was a bit controversial on the web forums. Ms. Young proved Lois Lane is Lois Lane no matter the color of her skin.

    Patrick Cassidy is the son of Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones. Quite a lineage to live up to in the musical theater, and while Patrick has yet to hit the heights that his mom and dad have, he showed that he too can deliver the goods musically. Jack played Max in the original theater show and Patrick does the same in this one. I've seen Jack Cassidy on TV while growing up and he was always one of my favorite actors. A couple of times, Patrick would stand and give that same famous Cassidy grin and you'd swear he was channeling his dad. It was Fathers' Day, after all. Of course, as discussed earlier, these are two different Maxs (though both are jealous of their respective Supermen). Cassidy sang well, but on one song, "You're For Me," I thought he sounded a little hollow on the high notes until I realized it was for effect.

    The wire work was top notch as were the other special effects (we see what Clark sees with his x-ray vision through his apartment door). After the show, the effects crew chief stayed and answered questions about the above and more - a nice extra. But there was one glitch when Clark started to leave the Daily Planet office and the stage door would not open. Matt Cavanaugh, undaunted, simply exited stage right.

    The music, the voices, the acting, the effects, the new story, the new setting, and the new attitude all contributed to a fantastic, wonderful time well spent whether you are into comics or not. This revision may not travel any further than its run in Dallas, but it would be a shame if it does not. It certainly deserves the chance to be seen by audiences around the country and, yes, the Great White way, if only to prove that "It's A Bird! It's a Plane! It's Superman!" is more than just an old musical from 1966 but an entirely new and viable entertainment vehicle in 2010.

    The musical comedy, directed by Kevin Moriarty, opens June 25 and runs through July 25, with performances on most days except Mondays. Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St. Friday's show is pay-what-you-can; tickets go on sale that morning at 10 a.m. and can be purchased in person at the Wyly. All other performances $15 to $86. 214-880-0202. dallastheatercenter.org.



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