The announcement that, at the end of its debut year in the new Wyly Theatre, the Dallas Theater Center will present a revised/updated version of the 1966 Broadway musical, It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Superman! has gotten a fair amount of notice on the interwebs. That’s not surprising, seeing as the topic manages to interest both comic fans and Broadway musical devotees — two groups who normally don’t even speak the same language but who definitely know how to spread the word. The posts appeared in a couple of comic book blogs but also theater websites and Variety. UPDATE: And now Unfair Park has chimed in with more detail about Moriarty’s adolescent love of comics and musicals and his dealings with Charles Strouse. I met Strouse more than a dozen years ago — a nice guy.
Even Splash Page, an MTV comics-movies blog, weighed in with some information I hadn’t heard from the DTC. Caleb Goellner reports that the new musical will draw not just from the original Charles Strouse-Lee Adams flop (or “cult musical,” if you prefer) but also the 1975 ABC-TV special (veteran kidshow adapter Romeo Muller was the writer).
Unfortunately, perhaps, Goellner also included the following disheartening clip from that special, which shows the adaptation was very much in the campy ’60s-Batman mode.
Groaning comments to the video include “WORST SUPERMAN EVER” and this is “so gay.”
But in making his season announcement, DTC artistic director Kevin Moriarty pointedly stated that his staging would be a serious re-vamp of the original and promised “there’ll be nothing mild-mannered about this action-packed show” — hence, the hiring of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to re-write the book. Aguirre-Sacasa has serious credits in both comic and theater worlds.
But disregarding the datedness of the TV show’s looks and even setting aside the silliness factor that the camp-cartoon approach inevitably entails (who could be scared of these villians?), the clip does illustrate a fundamental tech problem for any live theater Superman: It’s almost impossible to stage a convincing fight scene with a guy wearing a cape. The cape’s uselessness, even its interference with movement, quickly becomes apparent. Flying, sure, it looks great. And you can easily handle the special-effects when Superman breaks through walls or bends steel.
But have him fight — and everything promptly turns into a dance number.
A pity, by the way, the new show can’t include my nominees for the best Superman-related rock song: Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” and REM’s “I Am Superman.” And yes, that includes Five for Fighting’s “Superman (It’s Not Easy)” (lead singer John Ondrasik always sounds like a cheap copycat of Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and I’m not even all that wild about Coldplay in the first place).
Interestingly, the Five for Fighting number (reportedly inspired by Christopher Reeve) and the Strouse-Adams song, “The Strongest Man in the World,” are both about the internal suffering behind the masculine mask of strength (“Why must the strongest man in the world Be the bluest man, tell me why?/ Don’t they know the strongest man can cry?”)
To quote Laurie Anderson, “I’ve got a message for you. Here come the planes.”
Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice.
And when justice is gone, there’s always force.
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!