It may seem strange that there's a Superman musical, but in a way it would be stranger if there wasn't one. The character that started the whole superhero craze in 1938, Superman has been in pretty much every form of media there is: comic books of course, but also radio shows, movie serials, TV shows, feature films, cartoons, novels, newspaper strips, videogames, ice shows, whatever. Dating from 1966, It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman is being revived right now for two reasons. One is that it's the 75th anniversary of the Man of Steel (and, equally importantly, of Lois Lane, the hardest-boiled reporter in comics). The other is that rediscovering and resuscitating long-forgotten musicals is what San Francisco's 42nd Street Moon does.
It's actually pretty easy to see why this particular musical has been stashed away in the dustbin of history. Now it plays as a period piece, but the truth is that it was hokey and old-fashioned even when it came out. The year it debuted is important, because 1966 is also when the Batman TV show premiered and became a huge sensation with a campy, self-consciously corny style. It's a Bird attempts to take a similar tactic with Superman, creating a brightly colored world where bank robbers wear striped shirts and domino masks and carry big sacks with dollar bills on them, and where the mod citizens of Metropolis launch into go-go dances for no particular reason. There's a cheery fight song called "Pow! Bam! Zonk!" with bright-colored sound-effect balloons to match. It's pretty darned silly, even more so than the comics were at the time -- and that's saying something at a time when Red Kryptonite exposure was frequently giving Superman the head of a lion or an ant, and Jimmy Olsen was traveling back in time to launch Beatlemania in the time (and place) of Samson and Delilah.
Michael Doppe, Scott Maraj, Lucas Coleman, Steven Sloan and Kyle Valentine.
There's no Jimmy Olsen in this show, though, and no Perry White or Lex Luthor either. The only characters from the comics to hit the stage are Supes and Lois, and the others made up for the musical are pretty lightweight. The bad guys are a frizzy-haired and absent-minded female scientist constantly passed over for the Nobel Prize in favor of less accomplished male colleagues (amusingly dotty Darlene Popovic); a smarmy and narcissistic gossip columnist (a delightfully entertaining Brent Schindele); and a goofy family of stereotypical Italian acrobats led by a mama born too soon for the reality TV where she'd be most at home (Diahanna Davidson, laying the accent on thick).
Director Dyan McBride's staging goes for the musical's camp appeal with gusto. There's a greatly revised version that debuted in Dallas in 2010 with a script rewritten by playwright and comic book writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (who also was called in to salvage Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), but 42nd Street Moon goes back to the unreformed original book by David Newman and Robert Benton, who also wrote the film Bonnie and Clyde and even worked on Superman: The Movie. Alvin Shiu's cutout set transforms the Eureka Theatre's small stage into a retro-futuristic cityscape, with the pronounced Ben-Day dots that Roy Lichtenstein made famous, but that he got from the four-color printing process of comic books in the first place. Costumer Felicia Lilienthal clads the Metropolitans in bright primary colors that really bring the comics aesthetic to life. Lucas Coleman's Superman costume is impressively credible as well, though not-always family-friendly below the belt. (I guess when you're invulnerable you don't need to wear a cup to fight crime.)