DTC’s reboot of the ’60s musical about the Man of Steel doesn’t fly
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor
IT’S A BIRD… SUPERMAN
Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora St.
Through July 25. $15–$78. ATTPAC.org
I have a rule of thumb about the character of Superman: He should be taller than Lois Lane. Even in his superboots as the Man of Steel in the Dallas Theater Center’s re-written revival of It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s Superman, Matt Cavenaugh barely achieves eye level with Zakiya Young as Lois. And that’s only the first — and in many ways, smallest — problem in this highly problematic production.
It wasn’t an easy task to make this show work. The source material wasn’t the best — a jokey, ’60s-era piece of snark with dated songs. Playwright Robert Aguirre-Sacasa completely retooled the book, moving the action to 1939 (a year after Superman actually debuted in Action Comics) and giving it some smart, perhaps even smart-alecky, zingers (anachronistic gags about cell phones and illegal aliens; cheeky disbelief that no one sees that Clark and Superman are the same person).
That was a good start, but the show lacks focus: Is it a post-modern, winking satire of the genre or a gosh-durn, sincere throwback to Broadway of yesteryear? I doubt anyone associated could tell you; or maybe they’d say, “Both.” And therein lurks the real villain.
The plot is comic-book compatible. Daily Planet reporter Clark (Cavenaugh) tries wooing Lois (Young) but she’s only got eyes for Superman. Salieri to Supe’s Mozart is Max Menken (Patrick Cassidy), Metropolis’ most famous and powerful citizen — apparently a master scientist, zillionaire playboy-philanthropist-businessman (think Bill Gates with fashion sense). He also wants Lois, so he assembles the Secret Society of Supervillains to defeat Superman.
New orchestrations give the songs contemporary pep, and the flying effect is admittedly fairly cool to watch, but mostly the production droops along like Superman’s cape. What possessed director Kevin Moriarty to crook the proscenium? If he was trying to achieve a comic “panel” effect, he failed.
Do not imagine that Cavenaugh is suffering from a head cold to explain his nasal, quavering vocal performance; that’s how he wants to sound. It becomes annoying quick, and also robs Superman of his surefooted authority. (That he sounds exactly the same whether dressed as Clark or his alter ego demonstrates a lack of invention.)
At least Cavenaugh gives his all trying to make his hero, well, heroic; Young gives no performance to speak of. Oh, she can sing well enough, and it’s not like she stumbles over her lines. But where’s the energy, the panache? This is a comic book adaptation, for crissakes; better to overact than do nothing at all. (Julie Johnson, Bob Hess and Cedric Neal get that; as some of the supervillains, they camp it up outrageously.)
They’re all put to shame, though, by Jennifer Powers as the gossip columnist Sydney Sharp. Her big number, “You’ve Got Possibilities” — also a smash in the ’60s when Linda Lavin belted it out — is such a forceful, star-making bolt of electricity it actually poisons the rest of the show: Once you see what can be done with the music and the production, everything that follows pales by comparison.
Well, not everything. Cassidy’s cackling, obsessed Max (let’s be honest: He’s just Lex Luthor with hair) and Cara Statham Serber as his secretary (squealing like Lina Lamont) could be in their own spinoff.
In fact, maybe that’s what needs to happen here. Ditch Clark and Lois and give us something delish to hang our cape on. It might not soar, but at least it could take off.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.