“Faster than a speeding bullet! More powerful than a locomotive! Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!” The superhero of Metropolis comes flying up to Frederick for a two weekend engagement as Being Revived proudly presents their inaugural production of It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s Superman The Musical! Directed by David Norman with Musical Director Jonas Dawson at the keys, this campy throwback is barrel full of laughs for comic book fans everywhere. With book by David Newman and Robert Benton, and Music and Lyrics by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, this rarely produced swingin’ 60’s musical is soaring to new heights this spring with a great deal of good times in store for all.
Musical Director Jonas Dawson plays a wicked piano throughout the production, really highlighting the brilliant score composed by Charles Strouse. The balance of crazy melodies coming from Dawson’s exceptional playing really enhances the overall superhero experience. The book may have some issues, making its initial run on Broadway short-lived, but Director David Norman takes a campy approach to the production allowing comedy to seep into the show and focusing on the characters and nature of the narrative rather than the spectacle. The only two characters from the comic book series that even make the leap to the stage are the iconic superhero and the lovely Lois Lane. There’s no kryptonite but there is a treacherous villain and a good deal shenanigans and hyjinx to go around; and the actors become so wildly entertaining throughout the production that you find yourself, much like Lois Lane, falling in love with this retooled image of Superman quite quickly. Norman makes bold and unique choices in this production, really narrowing his focus onto the story, which lets the audience see Superman in a whole new light. He’s not your modern superhero that might zap onto the screen this summer at the movies, but he is a genuine homage to the good guy of days gone by; a true testament to the ‘do-gooder’ of 1960, the man who will always help the people and this is clearly seen in Norman’s casting choice for the title role. While Norman’s costume designs are in the right color scheme of the 60’s the clothing style is a little off, but this becomes less noticeable as the production progresses. What really turns heads is the deliberate choice to downplay Superman’s costume. Naturally the iconic spandex style top complete with monogram ‘S’ is present, but beyond that we see no tights or cape. This choice deliberately draws the focus into the hokey nature that frames the production and sets the stage for the silliness that evolves throughout the show. The opening overture is crafted in such a manner to continue allowing the audience to get in the mental headspace of a comic book; each of the principle actors appearing in an introductory moment with their names on cardboard signs and thick black lettering. Adding to the campy level of fun and comic book likeness is Prop Designer DC Cathro and his many oversized cardboard props. Everything from pencils and steno pads to baby Superman and all the iconic “POW” and “BAM” signs are done in this fashion bringing an element of superheroism straight from page to stage in a new and imaginative way. With a great show comes the responsibility of a great ensemble and this group of energetic singers does not disappoint. Featuring enthusiastic and bright voices from talents like Lauren Kuhn and Tim Eichelberger, the ensemble overwhelms the audience with their powerful sound in numbers like “We Need Him” and “It’s Super Nice.” Following Norman’s choreography into battle, their dance routines, particularly for the overture, are perfectly synchronized and a little zany creating a whacky atmosphere that really keeps the audience in stitches. The powerhouse belter of the production comes to us in a fictitious character created specifically for the musical, Sydney (Karen Paone) the Daily Planet secretary. With a sharp crisp attitude Paone showcases her incredible voice in “Ooh, Do You Love You!” a sarcastic slap in the face to reporting tycoon Max Mencken (Steve Steele). Paone slides into a sensual song in Act I, “You’ve Got Possibilities” and maintains her cool despite Steele being a really big jerk to her through most of the production. Steele as the wheeling and dealing paper man is a character who thinks he’s as slick and suave as well oiled hair but in reality repels the ladies like pesticide. Despite his hammy approach, which fits perfect into the hokey feel of the musical, Steele is a vocal gem belting out these big show-stopping numbers like “So Long, Big Guy” and “The Woman For The Man.” His charismatic charm, however seedy, turns his character vilely villainous when he encounters the intelligent if slightly deranged Dr. Sedgwick. Dr. Abner Sedgwick (Steve Barney) is a comic gem glowing in this production as brightly as a radioactive sludge. Appearing at first as a slightly esoteric super-brain it becomes quickly apparent that Barney embodies the epitome of nefarious villain! His approach to madness is so over the top it actually becomes frightening in places, making his number “Revenge” the biggest comical smash in the show. When he doubles up in duet with Steele the pair become a diabolically unstoppable force filled with evil and campy vaudeville dancing for “You’ve Got What I Need.” Barney steels the spotlight when he growls out his “Revenge (Reprise)” and really digs his heels into the dirt of being nasty. The delicate Lois Lane (Ashley Snow) is a much more versatile character than you’d expect. Living presently moment to moment, Snow crafts a series of women in this production, reserving a special face and emotion for each of the different men she encounters. Her voice is like a songbird for “It’s Superman” and bounces into something much more jazzy for “We Don’t Matter” a duet with Jim Morgan (Andrew McClain.) Snow captures the essence of the doe-eyed damsel in distress when it comes to being around Superman and makes this musical live up to its campy nature. Super actor Steve Custer takes on the difficult task of splitting himself into the nervous tweedy Clark Kent and the iconic man of steel, Superman. Custer makes distinctive choices (well beyond the glasses and necktie) to differentiate between the mousy man of The Daily Planet and the bold and compassionate superhero. Custer brings a dashing sound to the character of Superman, especially singing the campy feel-good songs like “Doing Good.” His glorified moment of phony comic book hilarity comes from the song “Pow! Bam! Zonk!” where he swings away at the villains while singing these illustrated lyrics in a deep and pure resonating voice. But it’s not all just flying and hiding for the Superman/Clark Kent duo. Custer brings a level of humanity— a third angle, if you will— to the indestructible man. There are moments of pure deep emotion radiating in his eyes and his voice during “The Strongest Man In The World” showing us that although he may be physically indestructible, Superman has a human heart that cares deeply for people. A rousing rendition that any DC comic fan would be proud of, Custer embodies both characters with true zeal.
So don’t look up to the sky, look up to the stage before It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s Superman The Musical! flies away!
Running Time: Approximately Two hours, with one intermission.
It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s Superman The Musical! plays through April 21, 2013 at The Performing Arts Factory – 244 S. Jefferson Street in Frederick, MD. Tickets are available for purchase at the door with cash or checks only at this time.