Well call me Lois Lane! I’ve got the official scoop on Superman as he dashes faster than a speeding bullet into this wild and crazy new role at a brand new company called Being Revived. The company takes older, rarely produced musicals—in this case It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s Superman The Musical! (Music and Lyrics by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams with Book by David Newman and Robert Benton). I sat down with The Man of Steel – Steve Custer, a DC-area actor, and got the exclusive interview about what it’s like to take an iconic superhero onto the stage as a singing and dancing musical theatre character.
Amanda: Superman is faster than a speeding bullet—is that how fast you’re moving for these crazy costume and scene changes?
Steve: It’s funny you ask that—the original script actually calls for doubles to help alleviate some of the running around that I end up doing, but Dave (Director David Norman) took a different approach to that. Some of my costume changes happen so fast there just isn’t time for the full outfit with cape and tights. I get a second and BAM I need to be Superman and then Clark Kent again before you can blink your eye. My favorite moment is a costume change that no one ever gets to see because I’m dashing frantically off-stage to do it. You might say the wings become my phone booth.
America knows many incarnations of Superman, what was it like working with the one spun for the stage in 1966?
Actually, working with the original script was really challenging because it wasn’t so much a script as it was sides. I’ve never read from a script where it was literally just sides where you only have the last five words that the other person says to find your cue. When Dave finally got the master script I just said “give it to me—I’m making a full script pdf.” But aside from the script this Superman is really different from any Superman that modern audiences might be familiar with. I’m actually really really excited to have this rare opportunity to shape and mold a new incarnation of one of the greatest comic book icons out there! He’s not the screen icon that everyone expects to see flying into theatres this summer because he’s more of an honest do-gooder character, very genuine. This version has a real similarity to the original comic books and the Christopher Reeve movies. Having this incredible chance to craft Superman with a little more individuality and congeniality is really awesome.
How do you as an actor find yourself connecting with and then differentiating from two characters that are essentially the same man but vastly different people?
I’ve always seen superheroes as having three sides rather than just their existence and their alter ego. And I feel this way about Superman as well. There’s the core— who he is at the end of the day whether he’s Clark Kent or Superman in that moment—then there’s the alter ego, Clark Kent, the man he’s trying to be to live the normal human lifestyle and then there’s the hero—Superman. Everyone thinks that Superman is the disguise but it’s really Clark Kent that’s the disguise, hiding who Superman is. I mean there is some realness in Clark because he’s the one that’s adapting to human life. It’s “Super-ception” Steve playing Clark Kent, Clark Kent is Superman, Superman is Kal El and it just keeps going and going. But it’s fun and a challenge to have two people to play who are one in the same, even though I like to think of it as a three in one deal. The challenge is in how I keep them separate and yet the same. I really did my comic book homework for this. I watched the old Reeve movies and reread my old comic books.
What’s it like singing as Superman? Does Superman have a favorite song?
I don’t sing like this ever. I don’t sing that bass/vibrato sound period. The first time I sang through the script I just sang it as me and Dave said to me “It needs more…” and he trailed off. I immediately knew what he meant, and said “More man?” He was glad I had said it. So I tried to add more “man” to Superman’s singing voice, making it deeper, more robust. As far as my favorite song it has to be “Pow! Bam! Zonk!” That song is such a fun number, but we’ve changed it a lot. It’s got this huge vocal part written into it, which Dave wanted me to sing while doing all of this crazy stunt fighting and when we tried it like that—well it just wasn’t going to happen that way. But choreographing it to have all the hokey knock-outs really stays true to Dave’s vision of campy narrative and it becomes this silly fun little speaking/singing number that I really have a good time with.
Who’s more fun to play on stage? Clark Kent? Or Superman?
First of all I’d like to mention how much fun it is just to be a part of this production. With a great director like Dave and the amazing kick-ass cast I’m working with, coming to rehearsal every day as two characters—it was double my fun! I think I had more fun trying to figure out how to portray Clark Kent and I ended up pushing more toward a Mickey Mouse character. I actually found myself channeling a little Peter Parker into the role as well. I just went for awkward with the lingering back and stuttering, this that and the other. He was really fun to develop, reminiscent of Michael Cera in almost any movie. I was even drawing a little bit from personal Steve experiences for some of the more awkward scenes around the ladies. As for Superman, I can’t really compare him to another character per say, but Christopher Reeve was always in the back of my mind. I watched the first two movies over again just to get in his headspace. Superman is all wholesome, all good to people and I just went running with that idea. I went back to a simpler time, a “here is the key to the city” style superman. Playing Clark Kent may be more fun but playing Superman is an honor.
The age old question— how does Lois Lane not know that Clark Kent is really just Superman in glasses?
Haha! It really is more than just the glasses, but now that you mention it, at the beginning of the show when Lois (Ashley Snow) is singing her song “It’s Superman” I’m off to the side, staring at her and I even take off my glasses, because I’m consciously thinking about having Clark Kent tell her that he really is Superman. Of course the moment gets ruined by the arrival of Dr. Sedgwick, but I think Clark has always wanted to hint at or even tell her that he’s Superman. Clark isn’t confident; in fact he’s collapsed, whereas Superman is suspended.
There’s a love struggle with Lois, of course. And then there’s an epic endless kiss with Sydney—how does that fit into Superman’s daily agenda?
It’s funny you should ask about the kiss with Sydney (Karen Paone) because it’s the point in the show where I felt ‘this just doesn’t make sense.’ She doesn’t exist in the Superman lore outside of this musical and I can’t wrap my head around why Clark would just let her have her way with him. I think her character at that point is frustrated and she just takes it out on poor Clark, so the more she gets into this kiss, the more awkward I just let the whole moment become, throwing my arms here and there trying to slink away; it’s a pretty crazy moment. As for loving Lois, it’s weird because it’s not really in the script. I mean you know that Lois loves Superman, but there’s never really a moment to show that connection. Lois gets her great “woe is me I’m in love with Superman” moments but we never really have a connection—we don’t’ even sing together. So it becomes a really challenging thing that we have to layer subtly and build in so that the audience knows Superman and Clark Kent love her too.
There is definitely a moment of defining truth in this musical that stands out against all of the hokey campy fun stuff— what was that like?
It happens in the song “Strongest Man In The World” and that song actually started out being really campy. But Dave had me reel it in a lot. What resulted was this third angle of Superman that I mentioned earlier. He’s really himself in that moment, not just presenting like he has been up until that point. Originally we played it hokey with a feeling of Superman saying “Shit, I have emotions.” But when I pulled it back it became this really poignant realization that Superman has never really belonged, despite trying, and creating Clark Kent helps him make that connection to belong. It’s definitely different from the rest of the musical, very real and very grounding.
Alright— final question—Superman has many super powers, but if you could have JUST ONE what would your super power be?
Steve: Aw, shucks. Just one? Well…have you ever seen the movie Chronicle? I encourage you to watch it, it’s very good, funny and cute and charming but it gets extremely real and heavy in a hurry. The kids have telekinesis that they mold and evolve to do things like shield themselves, or fully levitate themselves so that they’re flying. So that’s what I want as my super power. I want a mastery of telekinesis. Either that or I just want to fly. It’s something I’ve always wanted, maybe because I’ve read too many comic books. Everyone wants to fly so me too.
If everyone wanted to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge would you want to do that too?
How high is it?
Spoken like a true man of steel, though I suppose if he can fly how high up the bridge is simply wouldn’t matter. You read it here first, the inside edition of what it’s like to embody the iconic super hero!
You can catch Steve Custer knocking out the bad guys and rescuing Lois at Being Revived’s 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, cash or checks only at this time.
Read Amanda Gunther’s review of It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane! It’s Superman The Musical! on DCMetroTheaterArts.