What's New on the Rialto
It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman at Encores!
by Wayman Wong
Also see Michael Portantiere's interview with Ben Rimalower of Patti Issues
Directed by Tony winner John Rando, this Superman hopes to soar with a cast that's "got possibilities": Jenny Powers as Lois Lane, Ally Mauzey as Sydney, David Pittu as Dr. Sedgwick and Will Swenson as Max Mencken.
Watts, 40, was seen last fall on Broadway in Kathie Lee Gifford's Scandalous musical about evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson. He played the gallant El Gallo in the 50th Off-Broadway anniversary of The Fantasticks. And in Finian's Rainbow, the Iowa-born but Ohio-bred actor stood by for Cheyenne Jackson, who himself played Superman at the York Theatre in 2007.
I chatted with Watts about why he feels so strongly about Superman and his Scandalous past in tights.
Wayman Wong: There have been so many Supermans over the years. Who's your favorite?
Edward Watts: Christopher Reeve is iconic to me. George Reeves was awesome as this uber-good guy on TV, but when he put on the glasses and became Clark Kent, he was sort of the same. What I liked so much about Christopher Reeve was the difference between his Superman, who was larger than life and amazing, and Clark Kent, who was bumbling but fun to watch. His glasses would come off and his voice would get deeper, his chest would come out.
WW: Did you know the 1966 Superman musical before you were cast in it?
EW: I knew of it, but thank God, somebody thought Superman would be a cool and relevant show to do. Nowadays, our superheroes, like Batman and Spider-Man, are so dark. This is not. This is like black-and-white satire. It's campy. It's got fun songs by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, and we're using the original book (by David Newton and Robert Benton). Jack Viertel and (our director) John Rando have made some cuts, mainly for time and the staging. They've also cleaned up some of the stuff (about the Lings, the Asian acrobats) that seemed racist and stereotyped. Otherwise, everyone's so perfectly cast in our production, and I love working with them all.
EW: Not by me, sadly. It's because we have so little time. We do show Superman flying, but it won't be me on a rig.
WW: Superman isn't the only superhero in New York. Have you seen Spider-Man? And who would win in a head-to-head battle?
EW: No, but I've gotta get there. A very good friend, Dan Sharkey, is the understudy for the Green Goblin. And Superman absolutely would win in a head-to-head battle. He's invulnerable, so no one can defeat him, but that's one of the things I like about our script. Usually, someone tries to beat Superman with Kryptonite or Lex Luthor brings a villain from another dimension. Here, the musical goes into his psychology. The evil Dr. Sedgwick tries to convince Superman that he's not really needed, so he has a crisis of confidence. That's much more interesting to play. I see Superman as this sort of tragic hero. He's completely alone, the last of his kind. And he lives in a Fortress of Solitude. He can't even get close to Lois Lane because he doesn't want to put her in danger; he's devoted his life to saving others.
EW: No, but I've done it as an adult. I played Superman for a company picnic in New Jersey, and the kids went crazy. They all wanted to touch him and his cape. And the last time I dressed up as Superman might've been a Halloween party I went to eight years ago. I had a suit on over a Superman T-shirt, and I had it tacked open, so you could see the big S, and my tie had a wire in it, so it looked like it was flying as if I were running. It was really cool.
WW: So Encores! won't the first time you've been in a tights situation.
EW: No. Back in 2005, I did The Girl in the Frame at Goodspeed Opera. I played all these fantasy figures and all of them were in some state of undress. They glycerined me up and I was a fireman with no shirt on. And I played a workman in just briefs and a tool belt and a Prince Charming with a giant codpiece. I've also been Lancelot in Camelot a few times. Hey, if people want to hire me and put me in tights, it's all good. Luckily, I was a soccer player, so I have the legs for it.
WW: And last fall, you were hired for Scandalous on Broadway. What was that like it?
EW: Wonderful on so many levels. It was amazing to originate two roles in a new show: Robert Semple, an Irish preacher, and David Hutton, an egotistical matinee idol. And I made so many wonderful friends. Carolee Carmello was phenomenal (as Aimee) in the show. But even better, she's the nicest person ever backstage. She was never a diva. And Kathie Lee (Gifford, who wrote the book and lyrics) is one of the sweetest and most genuine people. But she's very polarizing. I don't agree with her politically or religiously, I'm sure, on many things. Doesn't matter. She would take me to lunch and ask what was going on in my life. She's amazing and I adore her.
WW: Do you think the knives came out for Kathie Lee?
EW: Absolutely. She became the best thing and the worst for the show. Her fans came to see Scandalous because of her. And her critics crucified her in the press and blogs. She did a tremendous job. And it all came from her heart. It was a difficult subject, but it had a lot of merit. It's unfortunate that we didn't have enough time to reach more people.
WW: Still, you literally got a lot of exposure from Scandalous. In act two, you played Adam in the Garden of Eden scene and all you wore was a fig leaf. How do you keep so incredibly fit?
EW: I go to the gym about four times a week. I was always athletic and genetically blessed, thanks to Mom and Dad. But I do work at it. I eat right. I also do a lot of cardio and running. I enjoy being in shape, but I'm not a gym rat.
WW: Kathie Lee also has given you exposure as a single guy on her "Guys Tell All" segment on the "Today" show. You did one with Olympic medalist Ryan Lochte and Bob Guiney from "The Bachelor." If you were asked, would you ever do "The Bachelor"?
EW: No way. I have no interest in any of those reality shows. You realize there's not a lot of reality on them; they're pretty staged and set up. But I've got a career going that I don't think needs that kind of thing.
WW: Is it fun being a single straight guy in musical theater?
EW: Yeah. There are a few of us, especially leading men. (Laughs.) It's fun and I confess to being a huge flirt. But I'm looking for something a little more meaningful than the next chorus girl that catches my eye, though they're all wonderful, too.
WW: Speaking of love, you've done The Fantasticks over 800 times and you've said it still speaks to you. Why?
EW: It must be one of the most beautifully written shows. It's so simple: Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, finds girl again, and the life lessons are timeless. I loved being part of the 50th anniversary (at the Snapple Theater Center). Tom Jones came back to reprise his role as the Old Actor, and it was a blast. No matter how many times I played El Gallo, or sang "Try to Remember," it was always magical. I also enjoyed working with all those wonderful people. Aaron Carter practically became my little brother. The cast was such a family. I went through a breakup while I was doing The Fantasticks and the show really helped me get through that because of its message about love.
WW: Did you work up a backstory for El Gallo? Who is he?
EW: I figured it out as I went along. I learned from the guy who played El Gallo before me, and he was really terrific: Lewis Cleale. Everybody calls El Gallo the bad guy, but ultimately he orchestrates the whole thing. He teaches the Boy and the Girl how to have a more meaningful love. Then he moves on to do the next good deed by himself. He's really a lonely guy. It's always seemed a little heartbreaking once I realized that in many ways, El Gallo is such a selfless hero.
WW: Sorta like Superman. And they both even wear capes. (Laughs.) One final question about the Man of Steel. His weakness is Kryptonite. What's yours?
EW: It could be donuts. I've forsaken them for many weeks just so I could stay in shape as Superman.
It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman will play March 20-24 at the New York City Center, 131 W. 55th St. Tickets: $30-$115. (212) 581-1212. Info: nycitycenter.org.
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