Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Flaps Into the Eureka Theater

Also see Richard's review of The Laramie Project

I first saw It's a Bird... It's a Plane ... It's Superman at the Alvin Theatre in 1966. Jack Cassidy, who played the villain Max, got top billing while Bob Holiday, who played Superman, got last billing just above the scenery and costume credits. In between were listed a young Linda Lavin playing Sydney, Patricia Marand playing Lois Lane and the wonderful Michael O'Sullivan playing Dr. Abner, the mad scientist. The New York Times said "fun, easily the best musical so far this season ... it would be enjoyable in any season". Well maybe, but it is a little dated for audiences of the 21st Century.

The score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams had a striking similarity to their musical Bye Bye Birdie. The tongue in check script was by Robert Benton and David Newman who went on to write "Bonnie and Clyde" and the "Superman" film. The psychedelic '60s was the era of counter-culture and anti-heroes, and super-heroes were lampooned. ... Superman was the musical of its times. The critics loved it and it was doing well at the box office when it somewhat mysteriously closed after only 129 performances. The effects were great for 1966 with Superman flying through the air, lifting "heavy" rooms, and dealing with some great equipment like a death-ray on stage.

ABC did a live telecast of the show in 1976 with Leslie Ann Warren as Lois, Loretta Swit as Sydney, Kenneth Mars as the villain Max, and the great David Wayne playing the mad scientist, Dr. Abner. An unknown David Wilson played Superman. We never heard from him after that insipid performance. I played the tape several days before seeing this current production and and realized that ABC junked the original story and fitted a more appropriate story for the times into the 97 minutes minus commercials.

Very few regional companies have tried to reproduce the musical and one can see why. It is clunky in presentation and the story could use some trimming. The musical also cries out for special whiz-bang effects and comic book graphics. In the 42nd Street Moon production, a narrator tells the audience of the effects such as Superman and the death ray. The telephone booth where Superman dashed for a quick change was made up of actors standing two to each side and a fifth holding a sign saying, "Phone Booth".

The plot is somewhat silly in today's world. As the show opens, Superman, in his guise as Clark Kent, is working for the Daily Planet and in love with Lois Lane. She is beginning to grate at the problems inherent in dating a super-hero. You wonder if they have ever had sex, since Clark has his red and blue Superman costume under the business clothes. How could she not know Clark was Superman?

An arch villain is soon plotting Superman's downfall in a convoluted plot which involves a troupe of acrobats who can no longer get paid to perform since everyone started watching Superman fly for free. There is a supercomputer called Brainiac 7 and a theatrical columnist who also hates the hero, both for dating Lois Lane and constantly stealing his headlines.

Most of the Strouse/Adams songs are not memorable. However, I have always liked "Revenge" for its clever lyrics that name Noble Prize winners. Michael O'Sullivan and David Wayne did a wonderful take on the song and Jackson Davis, one of our better actors in the Bay Area, does a great job with the song. He plays mad scientist Dr. Adner Sedgwick to the hilt. Edward Hightower plays Max, the jealous theatrical critic. He takes on too many of the mannerisms of Nathan Lane in the role. However, he was fun to watch during his duet with Dr. Sedgwick, "You've Got What I Need", an entertaining little vaudeville song.

42nd Street regular Lisa Peers played Sydney, and once again she has the required style down cold. She is one of the most professional of the group. Diane Wasnak as the littlest Grimaldi acrobat is a delight to watch as she jumps and bounces all over the stage.

It was a pleasure to see David Gunderman again. We saw this talented actor up in Portland at the Portland Opera company production of Sweeney Todd where he played "Tobias". He also played Huck at the Paper Mill Playhouse production of Big River. David plays Jim Morgan, and his duet with Lois, "We Don't Matter at All," is pleasing.

Lois is played by Jenny Lord. She has an engaging voice and was particularly good in the songs "Superman" and "What I've Always Wanted". Oh, did I forget Superman? He is played by Kurt Kroesche who has an excellent voice. He is a somewhat thin Superman; however, his body is solid, he has square shoulders and he is able to change his voice from Clark to Superman. He does a lot of clothes changing on stage.

All of the talent is good, but the musical just doesn't have that zing. The timing is off in many scenes and there isn't enough zip in some of the cues. There's a lot of dead space. This show needs to move fast and it just doesn't. I got the feeling the cast was not having a very good time. Maybe more camp would have been good. Also, it was a very hot day and the air conditioning in the theater was not working. I really felt sorry for those folks on stage under those hot lights.

The show runs thrugh June 24 at the Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco. Tickets are $22-$25 general. The next production will be Kern and Harback's Cat And The Fiddle, opening on July 4 and running through July 22. Call (415)255-8207 for tickets or visit

Cheers - and be sure to check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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