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Charles Strouse
by Wayman Wong

Also see Wayman's interview with Edward Watts

Charles Strouse
Charles Strouse's Broadway musicals keep getting revived like there's no "Tomorrow." Encores!'s concert version of It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman just got rave reviews for its run at New York City Center. And now the multi-Tony-winning composer, 84, is "Glee"-fully looking forward to seeing Jane Lynch play the mean ol' Miss Hannigan in his Broadway revival of Annie. Plus, Jay-Z and Will Smith are wrapping up a deal to make a modern-day, big-screen Annie, starring Quvenzhane Wallis, the 9-year-old Oscar nominee from Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Strouse spoke to me recently about all this and more.

Wayman Wong:  Congratulations on Superman! How'd it feel to see it revived at Encores!? I was surprised to read that the original production ran only 129 performances.

Charles Strouse:  It's been a long time since we wrote the show (1966), so we were very pleased. "Superman" was our attempt to do pop art then, but I don't think people were aware of it the way they are nowadays. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were doing these representations of cartoons that were put into the Museum of Modern Art, and that was the same impulse we had, but nobody put it together then.

WW:  So what did you think of the Encores! revival?

CS:  John Rando (the director) is magical. It's the way it's drawn, it's the way it's mounted, it's the essence of pop art. And John did such a marvelous job. It's just what we intended.

Edward Watts
It's a Bird ... It's a Plane ... It's Superman

Photo by Joan Marcus
WW:  What did you think of Edward Watts, who played Superman/Clark Kent?

CS:  He was perfect. He's gorgeous. He plays it absolutely straight, in the nonsexual sense, and he looks super. In fact, I thought the whole cast was wonderful. I enjoyed them immensely.

WW:  In 2007, there was a revival of Superman in Dallas, and it had a new book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who did the rewrite of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Whatever happened to that?

CS:  There's a story behind that. Warner Bros. apparently signed a contract that was more rigid than we assumed. In the contract, they said not a word of the (original) production could be changed, so they challenged the Dallas production, and they won. It's a shame. Roberto wrote a really clever book and I'm so eager to work with him again. We're good friends. (Lyricist Lee Adams and I) also wrote about three or four new songs for it. Matt Cavenaugh was wonderful as Superman, and it was a terrific production. But Warner Bros. wanted to do another Superman (movie) and they're jealously guarding anything that would encroach on that.

WW:  On another front, how do you feel about Jane Lynch joining your Broadway revival of Annie on May 16?

CS:  Overjoyed. I'm such a fan of hers on "Glee." She is perfect. Miss Hannigan is mean-spirited, but she's also sort of a camp (villain). It takes a very talented comedienne like Jane to play both without scaring the pants off of children.

WW:  What's the latest news on two of your newer musicals, both of which start with M: Marty and Minsky's?

CS:  Marty is a beautiful show. Lee and I want to get back to it, and we love it. Right now, there's some passing interest in it. Minsky's is closer to fruition. We're waiting to hear from a director. Bob Martin (The Drowsy Chaperone) has written one of the best books for a musical.

WW:  With all your awards and track record, producers should be coming to you and begging to do your shows.

CS:  No one's coming to me. I'm working my rear end off every day because I'm a composer, and I love composing. That's the joy of my life. Real estate in New York, which is what theater is about, is a very explosive market. The people who own the theaters pay a great deal of taxes and they want their theaters filled all the time. And the shows need star value or a kind of producer that doesn't exist anymore, like David Merrick or Hal Prince, who ran the whole show. Maybe Jimmy Nederlander, he's like that. Today, producers are people with a whole bunch of money who follow the crowd.

WW:  Finally, let's talk about the new film of Annie that's going to star Quvenzhane Wallis. What do you think of her?

CS:  She's fantastic. She was amazing in that bayou movie.

WW:  Now, you've won Tonys, Emmys and Grammys. But we've love to see you add an Oscar. What are the chances that you'd write new tunes with Jay-Z for Annie?

CS:  Slim. We made a terrific deal with Jay-Z. They're using six of my songs, like "Tomorrow" and "It's a Hard Knock Life," which was his biggest hit. But it's going to be a modern piece, so he wants to write some of the songs himself. But we got it into the contract that (Martin Charnin and I) would have a crack (at the new tunes).

(Wayman Wong edits entertainment for the New York Daily News, and is an award-winning playwright.)

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