It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman (1966)

In 1966 Superman sang on Broadway. Hal Prince directed a whimsical production. Composers Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie, Applause) wrote some cute songs. But to no avail. The show received mixed reviews and closed after 129 performances. Writers David Newman and Robert Benton would have better luck with their 1978 screenplay for the Superman movie.

What went wrong? Several things. DC only allowed the rights to the characters of Superman and Lois Lane. The writers made Superman a dopey blowhard and Lois a generic ingenue. The composers gave the best songs to the villains and a wisecracking secretary. Star Jack Cassidy demanded additional stage time for his minor role as a Gossip Columnist. And then there’s the racism.

Learn more in this spoiler filled recap.

Act One

The script was not funny enough to make up for the lack of emotional involvement…. Superman was notably lacking in suspense or wit.

Ken Mandelbaum, Not Since Carrie

Metropolis
SUPERMAN (Sings): I LOVE DOING GOOD.
CHORUS (Sings): WE LOVE YOU SUPERMAN!
LOIS (Sings): I WISH I WASN’T IN LOVE WITH SUPERMAN.

The Reactor
SCIENTIST: Superman, the nuclear reactor is going to explode!
SUPERMAN: I can fix that.
LAB ASSISTANT: Who cares if we all blow up? People don’t matter.
LOIS (Sings): YOU’RE WRONG. PEOPLE DO MATTER.
SUPERMAN: Fixed it.
SCIENTIST: That reactor was supposed to kill him. I’ve lost the Nobel Prize ten times and I want (Sings) REVENGE!

The Daily Planet
GOSSIP COLUMNIST (Sings): LOIS, I WANT YOU!
LOIS: Nope.
SECRETARY (Sings): CLARK, I WANT YOU! AND I SING THE SHOW’S BEST SONG!
SUPERMAN: It’s nice to have someone want Clark instead of Superman.
LAB ASSISTANT: Lois, I want you.
LOIS: These subplots are boring but (Sings) IT COULD BE NICE TO BE A HOUSEWIFE.

Awards Ceremony
SCIENTIST: I’ve invited you here to present an award.
CHORUS (Sings): WE LOVE YOU SUPERMAN.
(Meanwhile, the Scientist’s stereotypical Chinese Henchmen blow up City Hall.)
SCIENTIST: Superman, how could you let this happen? Metropolis will hate you now.

Act Two

Failure
GOSSIP COLUMNIST (Sings): I’M GLAD PEOPLE HATE SUPERMAN NOW!
SUPERMAN (Sings): I’M SAD PEOPLE HATE ME NOW.
SCIENTIST: Give up heroics. You only did them out of guilt. You couldn’t save your parents and nothing will change that.
SUPERMAN: He’s right! I’m going to give up being a hero!

Battle
LOIS (Sings): I’VE BEEN KIDNAPPED! I HAVE NO AGENCY!
SUPERMAN: I can’t save you Lois. I’m a failure.
SCIENTIST: Superman’s defeated. I’ll rule Metropolis!
CHINESE HENCHMEN: We’re done taking orders. We’ll blow up Metropolis!  
SUPERMAN: You’ve reminded me why I do good deeds. (Sings) I’LL BEAT YOU ALL UP! POW! BAM! ZONK!
(Cops arrest the Chinese Henchmen. The Scientist flees and falls off a roof to his death.)
LOIS: Forget being a housewife. I’m still in love with Superman!
CHORUS (Sings): WE’RE ALL IN LOVE WITH SUPERMAN!

The 1975 Television Special

[I]t’s easy to understand why the network buried it in an 11:30 p.m. timeslot.

Steven Puchalski, Shock Cinema Magazine

The special kept 11 of the musical’s 17 songs. It tried to ape the Adam West Batman but lacked that show’s panache. The writers exchanged the Chinese Henchmen for New York Mobsters and gave them a rotten new song. The director made Leslie Ann Warren play Lois as a squeaky voiced ditz. The designers built some cheap pasteboard walls for Superman to burst through. Then someone wrote some terrible funk arrangements. What was cute on stage became a train wreck on screen. It soured the musical’s already slim reputation. You’re better off listening to the Broadway cast album.

The 2010 Dallas Reboot

Superman… soars into view and lands like a muscle-queen Peter Pan on the stage of the Wyly Theatre.

Elaine Liner, Dallas Observer

Roberto Aguirre-Sacassa (Riverdale, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) wrote a new libretto for the Dallas Theater Center. The reboot took Superman seriously. No more begging for approval or having nervous breakdowns. The conflict came from Lex Luthor and some red kryptonite. DC comics objected. Lex was renamed Maxwell Menken, after the original book’s Gossip Columnist. The show received encouraging reviews but they were forbidden to produce the new version anywhere else.

The original 60’s libretto was produced at LA’s Reprise in 2007, New York’s Encores! in 2013 and on the West End in 2015. Superman would sing again in 2012’s unauthorized Holy Musical B@man. Multiple performers were injured in 2011’s Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Supergirl and the Flash would sing a duet on television in 2017. But, at the end of the day, are superhero musicals worth the effort? Does the medium have anything to offer these characters? Or should they stick to punching things?