By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
And then, when he was 12, Superman flew again into his life. By this time, Moriarty had found he loved musical theater as much as comics. At which point, he found hidden amongst a stack of records the original Broadway cast recording of a musical called It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman!, music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams (and a cluttered, campy story by Robert Benton and David Newman).
"And I could figure out Strouse and Adams were the writers of Bye Bye Birdie, which my high school had done, and Annie, and I felt like all of my dreams had come true," Moriarty told me in April 2009. "Had I been able to commission a piece as a high school kid, I would have had the writers of Annie do Superman!"
He would have to wait just a little while longer: 31 years.
On June 18, the Dallas Theater Center will present Moriarty's dream come true: It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman!, featuring brand-new and once-deleted songs from Adams and Strouse themselves, who first had to give their blessings and then went back to work writing and rewriting, and an entirely new story by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, the playwright and Big Love staff writer adored by fanboys for his smart turns writing the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man.
Aguirre-Sacasa is as much a fan as Moriarty: He tells the story of how, when just a small boy, he had to flee a screening of 1979's Superman: The Movie, because the famous scene during which Superman catches a plummeting Lois Lane—and a helicopter—got him so excited his nose began to bleed. Years later, while writing the Fantastic Four, he would steal from that scene Lois' famous line to the flying stranger: "You've got me? Who's got you?"
The cast includes not only the theater center's resident troupe, but Broadway familiars, chief among them Cavenaugh, who has starred on Broadway in West Side Story, Grey Gardens and Urban Cowboy; Zakiya Young, who'd been in The Little Mermaid (and is now the first African-American Lois Lane in the canon's history); and Patrick Cassidy as baddie Max Mencken. Cassidy is reprising the role, in name at least, originally portrayed on stage by his famous father Jack.
It's what managing director Mark Hadley calls "our biggest production in terms of size, scope and personnel." It is, he says, "a huge deal for us." He also acknowledges that until Moriarty presented him with the idea of resurrecting It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman, "I didn't even know there was a Superman musical in the '60s."
But there was. And it was a spectacular flop. The Man of Steel flew on Broadway exactly 129 times before he finally rolled up his cape on July 17, 1966. The critics were kind. Audiences were not; history, even less so.
"Most of the musical's songs lacked drive," wrote Les Daniels in DC Comics' official history, published in 1995. "The script by Benton and Newman seemed similarly unfocused. Everyone's idea was to have fun with Superman without making fun of him, but the attempt to achieve balance between seriousness and spoof resulted in a story not entirely successful on either level."
Who needed kryptonite? And so the Man of Steel retreated to the Fortress of Solitude and stayed there, powerless against the tastes and whims of audiences that believed a man could fly, just not sing.
Till, one day about 18 months ago, his pal Kevin said, "It's a bird...it's a plane...it's a Superman musical."
This is not a revival. No one knows quite what to call it, though "revisal" seems to be the word most often used. They're all the rage on Broadway these days as producers polish off old titles and make them fresh and contemporary and now. New songs! New story! New setting! And, voila, a whole new life for a moribund property. And though he may be invulnerable, they don't come any more moribund than the singing Superman.
But for Moriarty, this isn't just about giving some dreary old property an extreme makeover in the hopes of making a few bucks. The DTC's a nonprofit; he relies on the kindness of strangers to whom he regularly makes pitches on the big-money cocktail circuit. He has a lot riding on this production, among the handful of original pieces he's staged since coming to Dallas almost three years ago. This one comes with an undeservedly less-than-stellar reputation and the intense glare of a multimedia conglomerate suddenly very protective of its property.
This is personal for all involved in the rewrite. Aguirre-Sacasa's a lifelong fan who's wanted this job ever since he too stumbled across the cast recording as a kid. Adams and Strouse always claimed this was their favorite work, and one that never got the shot it deserved. And Patrick Cassidy wanted the role of Max Mencken if only to get somehow closer to his father, who died in 1976. Jack was 49 then. Patrick is 48 now.
Patrick almost wasn't cast in the show. Moriarty and a New York casting agent looked at dozens of Broadway actors. None of them worked—they were all too heavy, too grim. Moriarty wanted someone who could render smarmy sexy, someone light on his feet, someone "who doesn't sweat—who doesn't have to sweat." Someone like Jack Cassidy.