By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
But this close to the project, he couldn't back off. He asked Strouse if they could do a redo; he said yes. So too did Benton, Adams and Leslie Newman (David died in 2003). And so, one night 18 months ago, Moriarty went to New York to visit with his old friend Roberto to see if he'd be up for rewriting It's a Bird...It's a Pla...
"Before he even got it out, I said, 'If it's Superman, I'm in,'" the writer says.
And so began their adventure: Moriarty returned to Dallas to stage the new season; Aguirre-Sacasa went to Hollywood to work on his TV show and tear up Benton and Newman's book. It was difficult at first, harder than the writer imagined.
"I thought it was going to be easier," he says. It's Memorial Day, and the cast has been in rehearsal for three weeks. The first real run-through just wrapped, and Moriarty and Aguirre-Sacasa have discovered some songs need to be reworked, others cut entirely—including one of Cassidy's showstoppers called "Revenge." Then, it might get added back later. Or not. Moriarty says he'll stop tinkering the moment the curtain goes up opening night.
"But you always think it'll be easier," the writer says. "It took a lot of figuring out which songs to use and which to keep and where they should go. There was a lot of trial and error. But basically what it came down to was, in David and Bob's original book there were two, three villains and four, five love stories." It began to take shape, finally, in January of this year, when the writers and director met at Strouse's apartment with a cast for their first staging of the new play with the old songs. Strouse was delighted by what he heard: "I said, 'We've landed on Mars!'"
At which point they discovered they were not alone.
Initially, Moriarty and Aguirre-Sacasa had intended to restore to It's a Bird... the more famous and familiar superhero characters, those Benton and Newman didn't use and those who populate the current iterations of DC's myriad Man of Steel titles. Comic book websites were giddy to report that gossip columnist Max Mencken had finally become Lex Luthor; that Sydney Steel turned into Cat Grant, Daily Planet gossip columnist and, for a time, Clark's girlfriend; and that villains ranging from the '40s (Scarlet Widow, who appeared first on radio) to the '80s (Magpie) would suit up. At one point, Aguirre-Sacasa's original script even featured a Brainiac locked in Luthor's basement cooking up bad, bad things.
But the comics publisher, owned by Warner Bros., decided maybe that wasn't such a good idea. DC was fine with a revival of a dormant—and, truthfully, insignificant—property, this singing Superman. But to suddenly allow the franchise players into the storyline—not to mention a D-lister like Terra-Man, a space cowboy who dates to the '72 comics; Toyman, a classic arch-enemy; and Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen—would be admitting that this is a brand-new thing.
And, right now, Warners is locking down with its key properties: Last September, the studio announced DC Comics would become DC Entertainment, its key charge doing for its heroes what Marvel, now a Disney subsidiary, had done for its no-mere-mortals in such smashes as Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men franchise (not to mention the forthcoming Avengers prequels and spin-offs planned). And then there's that Spider-Man musical in the fall. Maybe. Meanwhile, Bryan Singer's Superman Returns, intended to reboot the movie series, was a dispiriting bust Warners felt made dimes on the dollar; there remains no follow-up planned four years after its release. Then there are the ongoing legal battles with the estates of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster over who owns which piece of Superman's lore and legend; a 2009 court ruling more or less King Solomon'd the Man of Steel, doling out some characters and back story to the Siegel family and other significant scraps (Lex! Jimmy! Perry White!) to DC.
When I asked a DC spokesman if there was anyone at the company to whom I could speak about this revisal, I received instead this terse statement: "When DC Comics became aware of the Dallas Theater Center production of It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman!, we advised the producers that the show must remain faithful to the original 1966 production. The Dallas Theater Center, a not-for-profit organization, understands that this production is limited to a one-time run in Dallas. DC Comics wishes the Dallas Theater Center a successful summer season."
In other words: Don't even think about taking this show on the road.
Moriarty and Aguirre-Sacasa would certainly like to see It's a Bird... live on beyond its Dallas run. But first things first: Let's get him off the ground in Dallas before flying Superman somewhere else.
"Whenever we do a new piece, and Superman is very much an example of that, our primary focus is to make a production that will have a powerful impact on our audience right here, right now," Moriarty says. "That's our core mission as a theater. That's why our donors and ticket-buyers provide us with the resources: to make theater for Dallas in Dallas." But, sure, yeah, of course he'd like to see the musical have a long and healthy run elsewhere. What parent doesn't want to see his child grow up to become a smash hit?