Thursday, April 11, 2013

theatre review IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE, IT'S SUPERMAN, City Center Encores!, March 24

The City Center Encores! series of staged concerts of musicals provides an excellent way for older musicals that rarely get produced to be seen by those who might not get a chance to see them.  And while some of the previous picks over the past twenty years in the Encores annual offering of four shows have included more well known musicals like Follies, Merrily We Roll Along and Promises, Promises it is nice when a show like It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman is selected to be included.  And Superman is a show, unlike the three I mentioned, that will probably never see a commercial Broadway revival production.  The show might be dated and the story a bit un-pc, but the score has many stand out songs so getting to see this concert production with Broadway stars giving knock-out performances brought a big smile to my face.   The fact that I've never seen a production of this show was also another major reason I didn't want to miss this production.

Jenny Powers and Edward Watts
The original Broadway production of the show opened on March 29, 1966.  With music by Charles Strouse, Lyrics by Lee Adams, a book from David Newman and Robert Benton and directed by Hal Prince, Superman unfortunately opened shortly after the tv show Batman had become a hit series.  It is possible that the campy nature of the Batman series and the fact that it was available to be seen for free twice a week turned audiences off from paying to see a musical version of another superhero as the show only managed a short run of 129 performances.  However the score by Strouse and Adams has many gems including one song that would become somewhat of a hit, "You've Got Possibilities."   And while Newman and Benton would never write another Broadway musical, the two of them did co-write the 1978 non-musical big screen version of Superman that starred Christopher Reeve and Marlon Brando.  The year after they co-wrote the musical Superman, Newman and Benton would co-write the screenplay and get Oscar nominations for Bonnie and Clyde and Benton would go on to win three Academy Awards for his writing of Places in the Heart and his screenplay and direction of Kramer vs Kramer.

Edward Watts and the ensemble
It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman avoids portraying any part of the evolution of Superman and starts instead with Clark Kent already working as a reporter at The Daily Planet and Superman already a hero for the city of Metropolis.  Lois Lane is already in love with Superman, though she questions his feelings for her and upon meeting ten time Nobel Prize "loser" Dr. Sedgwick begins dating one of Sedgwick's co-workers, which makes Superman jealous.  But Superman's got bigger problems with Sedgwick being an evil scientist with plans to destroy Superman as a way to get back at the world for not awarding him anything for his efforts.  Add to the mix Kent's co-worker the slimy gossip columnist Max Mencken who has plans of his own to take Superman down.  Mencken is tired of being bumped off the front page by yet another Superman story so he becomes partners with Sedgwick to get rid of the super hero.  Max's assistant, the sex pot Sydney Sharp has plans of her own, but ones with romantic overtones.  Added all together and you have a big cartoon of a musical with action and romance aplenty.

David Pitty and Will Swenson

The cast for the Encores production had a complete ball in not only bringing these cartoon characters to life but also in just having a fun time playing off each other and the joy and humor they brought to the show definitely flowed out into the audience.   Edward Watts is appropriately both square and heroic in the alternate roles of Kent and Superman.  His muscular frame and clear strong voice perfectly align with the Superman image.  Jenny Powers had the right touch in her portrayal of Lois Lane in the sense that you understood her mixed feelings for Superman.  Her soprano voice is so rich and clear and brought out lovely notes and moments in her songs.  Watts and Powers also had no problem in their portrayal of a disfunctional relationship, something not so hard to get across with just a few weeks of rehearsal.

Alli Mauzey and Will Swenson
 Will Swenson was slimy and sublime as Max and David Pittu was absolutely hilarious as Dr. Sedgwick.  The two of them had a grand time in their second act duet together. Alli Mauzey was a hoot as Sydney and delivered the hit song "You've Got Possibilities" in a fun and upbeat fashion. 
With a slightly edited down book, John Rando directed the Encores concert production and achieved a near excellent cotton candy confection.  The comical moments were hilarious, the musical ones delicious and the choreography by Joshua Bergasse played upon the 1960's style of the original in a crazy way.  The set design by John Lee Beatty was an homage to the comic book and comic strips of the period and included colorful pop-up set pieces.

While It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman may not be the best musical ever created it has a fun and infectious jazzy score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams and a book full of cultural satire.  The Encores concert more than delivered on showing the possibilities that this under rated gem of a show has.

Behind the scenes at the rehearsals for the concert performance:

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