/ The Dallas Guide
Dallas — By Tui Cameron on June 30, 2010 at 3:34 pm
Filed under: featuredarticle, review, theater

Review: It’s a bird…It’s a plane…It’s Superman!

Matt Cavenaugh as Superman lands on a rooftop.

Matt Cavenaugh as Superman lands on a rooftop.

Last night, I attended a production by the Dallas Theater Center (DTC) called It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!. With a brand new libretto, and four new songs, DTC has given the original 1966 Broadway production of Superman a makeover to suit the times, while remaining delightfully dated in all the right places.

From the moment we visit the planet Krypton to witness the infant Kal-El (Superman) being tucked into a cute little rocket – a vehicle more reminiscent of your grandmother’s front loader than anything ever designed by NASA – the playful tone of this new production is set, and remains on an even keel throughout.

The show features original music by Charles Strouse, with lyrics penned by Lee Adams, the same dynamic duo who created the Tony award winning tunes in Bye Bye Birdie. Their jazzy, upbeat melodies were capably played by the pit orchestra. The sound was full and balanced well with the onstage vocals. Most importantly, I left the theater humming, which is always a good sign.

Fast-paced, with plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor, It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane…It’s Superman! is fun for all ages. It’s one of those shows that makes a great introduction to theater for the kids in your life. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa brings his experience writing comic books, plays and the HBO series Big Love to the new storyline, which focuses primarily on the love story between Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

Lois Lane (Zakiya Young) flirting with Superman (Matt Cavenaugh)

Lois Lane (Zakiya Young) flirting with Superman (Matt Cavenaugh)

Although the story takes place in the late 30’s there is a touch of different decades throughout, as when Superman’s nemesis, Max Menken, brags of owning a color TV, and then – in the next breath – admits that they don’t yet exist. The playful tone of the play makes these lapses in the timeline forgivable. This is Superman, after all, not Othello.

The play is well cast. Matt Cavenaugh as Superman/Clark Kent exudes the perfect balance of self-conscious geek with confident-yet-humble super hero. Lois Lane is capably portrayed by Zakiya Young, and the entire ensemble has strong voices. Jennifer Powers, however, fairly sizzles as Sydney Sharp, a blonde temptress who sets her sights on Clark Kent. Some of the best scenes are her failed attempts to seduce him.

Sydney Sharp (Jennifer Poewrs) flirts with Clark Kent (Matt Cavenaugh)

Sydney Sharp (Jennifer Powers) flirts with Clark Kent (Matt Cavenaugh)

Another highlight in the show is the bad guy, the faux-philanthropist, Max Mencken, who manages to create more mayhem in his snappy business suit than any of the zanily costumed bad guys. Patrick Cassidy is simply perfect for the part, and the fact that his father played the same role in the original Broadway production makes it all the better.

From elegant satin gowns to wacky villains, Jennifer Caprio’s costume designs fit perfectly in this comic book universe. Clark Kent’s suit would be garish in the real world, but for this musical, it is just right. The Secret Society of Super Villains, meanwhile, remind me of miscreants who might crash the Mad Hatters tea party. Their outfits are enough to make you laugh all on their own.

Lois Lane (Zakiya Young) and Superman (Clark Kent)

Lois Lane (Zakiya Young) and Superman (Clark Kent)

Beowulf Boritt’s sets are impressive, not just because of the detail and perspective achieved, but also for the variety of changes throughout, all of which fit perfectly into this comic book realm. I especially enjoyed the sense of height created by the tilted skyscrapers and the mad scientist’s beam-ray.

And yes, Superman even flies. Not just once, but plenty of times, thanks to a cable a mere 5/64 of an inch thick, and a rigger backstage who lifts him 60 feet in the air at times. In fact, if you are curious about the technical aspects of the show, be sure to stay afterwards for DTC’s Stay Late, when a member of the stage crew explains the methods behind the magic in an informal Q&A style gathering. Stay Late is a feature of every DTC production and offers the audience a glimpse into all the hard work that goes on backstage.

It is easy to get caught up in It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!, in part because the musical never takes itself too seriously. Even when singing about “truth, justice and the American way,” it somehow manages not to feel cheesy, nor does it suddenly toss a heavy-handed moral into the mix. I had a great time, and if the audience on the night I attended is any indication, I wasn’t the only one who was swept away.

What: It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman!
When: Now through July 25th, 2010, Visit Dallas Theater Center for a complete list of showtimes.
Where: AT&T Performing Arts Center: Wyly Theatre, 2400 Flora Street, Dallas, TX (map)
Price: $15-$61, Visit this link to purchase tickets.
More information: Visit the Dallas Theater Center official website.

NOTE: Tickets were provided to me by the Dallas Theater Center for review purposes, but the opinions expressed are wholly my own.

Photo credit: Photos by Brandon Thibodeaux, courtesy of the Dallas Theater Center

Tags: featuredarticle, review, theater

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