Dallas Theater Center's Kevin Moriarty rescues a singing Man of Steel from his Fortress of Solitude.
It is the least interesting part of any superhero story: the origin story. OK, OK, already—we get it. His parents were killed in an alley by a thug with a pistol. He was bitten by a radioactive spider. She came from an island full of Amazons. His parents sent him to Earth in a rocket just as their faraway home planet was self-destructing. Blah blah blah. Fine, tragic, whatever. Enough with the telling already. Start the show!
Well, then—we'll come back to the beginning later. (A hint: It involves a show crash-landing on the planet Broadway in the year 1966! And the artistic director who'd emerge from the wreckage: Super Kevin!)
What, then, is our hero up to now?
Why, he's running around a sofa in his apartment, being chased by a pretty girl. He's a mild-mannered reporter for a metropolitan newspaper; she, a spunky go-getter at The Daily Planet out to out the meek mortal as a superman beneath his schlumpy exterior. She tousles his hair, unties his tie, tries to take off his thick glasses.
PARKING: Reserved Parking Dallas Cowboys v Oakland Raiders
TicketsSat., Aug. 26, 7:00pm
Dallas Cowboys vs. Oakland Raiders
TicketsSat., Aug. 26, 7:00pm
Mesquite Championship Rodeo
TicketsSat., Aug. 26, 7:30pm
Stockyards Championship Rodeo
TicketsSat., Aug. 26, 8:00pm
Dallas Cowboys Training Camp
TicketsMon., Aug. 28, 5:00pm
And then—then!—Sydney Sharp begins to sing to Clark Kent. You read that right: Sing.
"Still, you've got possibilities,
Though you're horribly square.
I see possibilities,
Underneath, there's something there."
Sydney mocks Clark's suit and choice in hats; he's a mess, but, beneath, she insists, rests a tiger ready to roar. She chases him; he, faster than a speeding bullet, almost lets her catch him. She begins to unbutton his white shirt, beneath which are his red-blue-and-yellow undies. They waltz across the den. Sydney plops on the couch and crosses her legs—why, um, they could see that from Krypton! He takes a fall on the couch. She lands in his lap. Red-hot possibilities.
But, there are questions—like, should she land with a twirl or a plop? And what to do about her ass, which keeps landing center-stage?
"There's something for all ages," says Jenny Powers, the actress playing Sydney.
"And all proclivities," adds Kevin Moriarty, the Dallas Theater Center's artistic director.
Powers, best known for having played Rizzo in the Broadway revival of Grease, is clad head to toe in form-fitting, come-hither black—rehearsal attire, nothing fancy. By the time the public sees this routine downstairs in the main theater space at the Charles and Dee Wyly Theatre, her bodysuit will give way to an extravagant gown—something bright, flashy and very late '30s befitting a gossip columnist hot on the trail of The Story of the Century. But for now, her "lady parts are hanging out," as Moriarty puts it.
Moriarty has been observing from the sidelines; his choreographer, Joel Ferrell, is in charge of blocking this scene. But Moriarty needs to interject: He wants to make sure Matt Cavenaugh—Clark Kent—understands how a righteous man of steel would act when faced with kryptonite in the shape of lady parts.
"Sydney's the hottest woman in the most sexually aggressive state he's ever seen a woman," says the faux-hawked Moriarty, who, at age 43, still looks like a kid playing grown-up dress-up in the blue blazer draped over his maroon button-down and dark jeans. "But Clark's an upright, moral person in love with another woman, and believes in sex with marriage. It's like fundamentalists. It's not that they don't get boners. They just try not to do something with 'em."
Cavenaugh and Powers, real-life husband and wife, crack up; so too Ferrell and assorted backstage hands on hand during this late-May rehearsal just weeks before opening curtain. But Moriarty nailed it: That's as perfect a portrayal of Superman as you'll find in decades' worth of text on the subject. I will tell this to Moriarty during a later interview, and when I suggest it just might lead off this story, he is mortified. He just hates the thought of a story about his lifelong affection for Superman being introduced with so crass a précis. He offers instead a more eloquent turn:
"The goal of society is not to deny our urges, but to master them for something greater."
He starts talking like this when the subject turns to Superman. He can't help himself. Moriarty has a serious case of hero worship—has ever since he was a boy in small-town Indiana, where Superman comics and musical-theater soundtracks were his best friends.
He often tells the story of how, when he was 6 or 7, he was a small lad with thick glasses, this anonymous nobody to whom other kids seldom paid attention. Then one day, he wore to school beneath his regular clothes a superhero outfit his mother made for him. During recess, he ducked behind the tool shed and stripped down to his costume—no, his uniform.
He emerged just in time to rescue the girls from a spirited game of war amongst the boys. He would tell them, "Never fear, Super Kevin is here!" And they would be grateful for their liberation. No laughs, only thank-yous. The Last Son of Krypton had saved this little kid from Indiana.
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.
The casting director suggested: "How about Patrick?" Moriarty paused and said, "Do you think he'd do it?" Sure he would. He's been waiting for this his whole life. He was in London doing a concert. He got the call. They asked for a video audition. He said yes, certainly. And that's how he got his dad's part.
"I am so thrilled and honored to be here for the obvious reason," Cassidy says during a break in rehearsals. He's a chiseled, handsome man who looks younger than 48. "I thought after a 30-year career, I've never gotten to play the roles my father did. And this is not only my chance to do a really terrific part for me as an actor, but it's also a chance for me to pay homage to my dad. Then they revamped the whole book! And then add the fact Charles and Lee are involved, and this is really something special. I was knocked out by that. Knocked out."
But it is very much Kevin Moriarty's show now. It has been since he was a little boy. Which is why he's spent the last 18 months buried in this, all the while revamping A Midsummer's Night Dream (very Puck rock), directing Neil LaBute's grim Fat Pig and overseeing the rest of the 2009-'10 season now coming to a close. However difficult his schedule, however hard the material, he always knew that at day's end he'd get to come back to Superman and to Aguirre-Sacasa's rough drafts and character sketches and Adams' and Strouse's new songs and become a kid again, wrapped in a big red cape.
"It's easy to think simply of Superman as a source of action-adventure, of humor, even of romance with Lois," Moriarty says during a rare rehearsal break. "But if you spend much time with the character, almost anyone can relate to those fundamental challenges of integrating various parts of your identity into one coherent identity, sacrificing something for something greater, carrying your history and values with you even as you move into new situations your parents never dreamed of. Those are explicit parts of the Superman story told over and over. And maybe you need someone in a big blue costume to swoop down and show us the way."
For their revisal, Aguirre-Sacasa and Moriarty have cut and pasted and tossed out songs from the original production; set it in 1939 rather than "today"; and tossed out the original story, a rather circuitous and daffy tale about a jealous Daily Planet gossip columnist named Max Mencken who teams up with a petty scientist named Abner Sedgwick to rob Superman of his estimable ego—with the help of a troupe of Chinese acrobats angry with Superman for stealing their spotlight.
This revisal is a brand-new different thing: equal parts Superman: The Movie and its superior sequel, the comic books (kryptonite and Z-grade super-villains) and, yes, even Our Town, to which Aguirre-Sacasa makes veiled references in scenes where Clark Kent's back home in Smallville.
"I love all that nostalgic, Americana stuff," says Aguirre-Sacasa, who's been in town every weekend to write—and significantly rewrite—with Moriarty during breaks in rehearsals, which began mid-May. "I also love the golden age of comics. I am a big buff when it comes to the publishing history of comics, and I thought it would be fun to place our Superman at the birth of the comics industry. And, historically, his message of optimism and can-do attitude and the world is a good place felt the most resonant coming out of the Great Depression." Which is why he set the musical in '39. "It could have an added resonance today."
He also wanted to refocus the romance on Superman and Lois and Clark Kent. This would be an action adventure story—that of the villain trying to kill Superman, of course, but also an old-fashioned musical-comedy romance: Boy meets girl who other boy wants but she doesn't even though he's really the guy she does want. It's certainly easier to follow than a musical in which Superman has to fend off jealous Chinese acrobats.
The thing is, in the original, Superman was low man on the playbill: Bob Holiday—who'd gotten his start performing at, among other places, Abe Weinstein's Colony Club on Commerce Street—was the last cast member credited on the playbill. Which, come to think of it, was about right for 1966.
Back then, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Man of Tomorrow was so yesterday. Born in Cleveland in the mid-'30s, and revealed to the public on the cover of Action Comics No. 1 in June 1938, Superman in the days of LBJ, Vietnam and the British Invasion was a square amongst the radicals and deserving of his unheroic moniker the Big Blue Cheese.
In the late '30s and early '40s, he'd been a tough-talking social crusader—Bogie in circus tights taking on wife-beaters, football-game-throwers, chain-gang taskmasters and corrupt politicians. Siegel, quoted in Les Daniels' 1998 Superman: The Complete History, said their hero was driven by "this tremendous feeling of compassion that Joe and I had for the downtrodden." Meanwhile, there was poor Clark Kent, getting the ice-cold shoulder from Lois Lane, who wanted only the other guy—Clark without the glasses, and how that never clicked with her...
Then came the cartoons by Max and Dave Fleischer, Rotoscoped masterpieces that still set the benchmark for animation; and the long-running radio show sponsored by Kellogg's. For a long while, and especially during a World War in which he never intervened except to sell bonds and the promise of democracy, Superman served as inspiration—illegal alien as ultimate patriot, the protector of the red, white and blue dolled up in red, blue and yellow.
And then his villains blossomed from a street-level shade of menacing to sci-fi baddies to tyke-show sillies such as Bizarro, the Toyman and Mr. Myxzptlk, a "derbied Bugs Bunny of an imp from the Fifth Dimension," in the words of Tom De Haven, an English prof who wrote both the greatest novel about the hero (It's Superman) and an opinionated history (Our Hero: Superman on Earth). Then, in '51, came a black-and-white savior: George Reeves as Superman, for seven seasons a stalwart defender of truth, justice and the American Way. And then, he died.
In the meantime, a man named Fredric Wertham convinced Congress comic books were turning kids into gay, crazy terrorists. At which point comics retreated into juvenilia, and all of the sudden the Superman family included a super-dog, a super-horse and even a super-monkey named Beppo. At which point, Superman became saddled with the eventually inescapable rep as the indestructible Boy Scout. He also dated, briefly, a mermaid.
He was, in other words, vulnerable for the first time in his existence. Ripe for parody and ridicule. And show tunes.
Charles Strouse recalls exactly how It's a Bird... was hatched: His songwriting partner Lee Adams had been at Esquire in a previous life. There, he knew two boys—Robert Benton, a smart-ass University of Texas lit-mag contributor, and David Newman, a way-too-well-read Yankee by way of the University of Michigan—who would eventually define the Esquire voice and vibe, which was: "a wise guy thumbing his nose at the world," wrote Carol Polsgrove in her 1995 magazine history It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, But Didn't We Have Fun? Legend has it that Lee Adams, with his collaborator Strouse, told the twosome fun's fine, but how'dya like to make some real money?
"The truth is, Lee liked them, and he wanted to do a show with them, and he knew they were interested in musical theater," Strouse says now. "One night David and Bob were up at my apartment, and David said, 'My son had this idea.'"
Leslie Newman was picking up a copy of Action off their son Nathan's floor when the idea hit her (Nathan too): Superman! This was sometime in 1964, when Strouse and Adams were seen as hit-makers, after they'd scored the musical adaptation of Clifford Odets' gritty, jazzy Golden Boy starring Sammy Davis Jr. and 1960's Bye Bye Birdy, the rock and roll parody with Dick Van Dyke (who'd star in the film as well).
"David always gave credit to his son," Strouse says. "It was not us coming to them. It was their idea, and we loved it. We said, 'Don't go any further. That's a fantastic idea.' We were very emotionally connected to him—Superman."
Benton loved Superman too. He says he can still remember where he was when he bought his first Superman comic. In 1938, Benton, born in Oak Cliff, would have been 6.
"It was right around the corner from the Adolphus Hotel, between Commerce and Main," says Benton now. He grew up here. His father worked downtown, for Southwestern Bell. "There was a tiny newsstand. I remember going in there with my father. It was a Friday or Saturday. And I remember he was buying True Detective, and he bought me this comic. I remember this image of a man in a silly outfit holding this car up. It was Action Comics No. 1."
It took the foursome 13 months to finish a draft; Strouse and Adams usually took twice that long. "It was one of the things I had the most fun doing," Strouse says. "We liked each other. We laughed all the time." And they really liked what they had: an arch and satirical piece of Pop Art that didn't really get Superman—the story hinged on the villains rendering a hammy Superman an insecure whiny baby—but was just light and affectionate enough to make the sarcasm palatable.
"He is a great character," says Benton. "He's this schizophrenic in a kind of way—two guys in love with one girl. And he's caught in some kind of impossible thing, like an optical illusion. And there's a kind of tragedy in his life, which is heartbreaking. He's caught in something he can't get out of. It's impossible."
The show opened at the Alvin Theatre on March 29, 1966; the cast album came out in May. And by July, it was clearly a goner. Which, in retrospect, seems inexplicable: Critics almost universally adored the production, directed by ascendant Broadway royalty Hal Prince, who by then had produced or co-produced The Pajama Game and West Side Story and was only beginning to take charge in front of the stage. This line from Stanley Kauffman's glowing review in The New York Times—"It is easily the best musical so far this season, but, because that is so damp a compliment, I must add at once that it would be enjoyable in any season"—has been reiterated more often than the musical itself.
"That must have been a time when The New York Times didn't keep a show open," Patrick Cassidy says. "I just don't get it."
As Bruce Scivally writes in his Superman on Film, Television, Radio and Broadway, at some point the show stopped being popular with grown-ups. Kids loved coming, Scivally wrote, because "Holiday remained in his Superman costume after the matinees and invited the kids backstage for autographs. Towering over his young fans, the 6-foot-4-inch actor signed their programs and admonished them to drink their milk and be good."
Benton says he was "surprised" that the show flopped. But he knew early on It's a Bird... wouldn't have a long run. He and his wife had their son in April 1966, and when he went to the theater to celebrate and hand out cigars, Prince told him, "We're not getting the audience." Everyone, cast and crew, was forced to take a pay cut—all except Benton, a new father. He was stunned.
"I think it was really a wonderful show," he says now. "Adams and Strouse did a great job, Hal Prince did a great job, and our cast was terrific."
Matter of fact, Jack Cassidy, Michael O'Sullivan as the jealous scientist Dr. Sedgwick, and Patricia Marand, who played Lois Lane, were nominated for Tony Awards. Yet, still, on July 17, 1966, after but 129 shows in front of dwindling audiences, the musical closed. And, to this day, Benton and Strouse are left to wonder why.
The prevalent theory: Shortly before It's a Bird... opened, ABC premiered Adam West's Batman, which took the wind out of Superman's campy cape. "Capelash," David Newman called it.
"I thought it was a wonderful show and literally misinterpreted by the public because Batman had appeared on television and took away the feeling of its originality," Prince says via e-mail from London, where he's in the midst of launching yet another show. "Obviously, both projects could not have been more different—Superman was never camp. But still, the public misunderstood, and despite a great review from The New York Times, stayed away in droves, as they say."
Benton's not sure, though, that was it.
Audiences, he says, "were focused on the singing and dancing and flying and stagecraft. I also think they thought it was deliberately ironic and naïve. The show was not getting an audience because it was not a children's show. But it was a Superman show, and people thought it was a children's musical. But it was an adult's musical. It was one of those things that was seen not to be one thing or the other."
And then it was nothing at all, save for a horrid 1975 ABC-TV production buried on late-night television (starring Lesley Ann-Warren, Loretta Swit and Kenneth Mars) and a musty script occasionally hauled out by high schools and regional theater companies who post their stripped-down productions straight to YouTube. There was, though, the one standard: "You've Got Possibilities" performed by a newcomer named Linda Lavin, last heard performing the song in a 2005 Pillsbury commercial featuring the Doughboy.
Three years later, Kevin Moriarty was asking Charles Strouse if, gosh, well, would he mind if he had a crack at Superman?
When, in April of last year, Moriarty announced that It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman! would close out the Dallas Theater Center's inaugural season in the AT&T Performing Arts Complex's Wyly, the unthinkable happened: People outside of Dallas theatergoers were excited. And not just people, but, like, fanboys with comic book websites who ran interviews with Sacasa-Aguirre as he plotted the course for the show. The dork knights thrilled at the news that the writer had replaced Max Mencken with Lex Luthor—thrilled! Finally, a Superman musical for Superman fans. Even MTV's website ran a handful of lengthy news items in the months after the announcement.
Moriarty certainly picked a good time to announce his Superman musical: At right around the same time, director Julie Taymor, who's tamed The Lion King for Broadway, and U2's Bono and The Edge were crafting their Spider-Man musical, then scheduled to open in February of this year. But the guesstimated $50 million Spidey was coming apart at the webs—too costly, too extravagant. So it stalled, and in recent months its biggest names (Evan Rachel Wood, Alan Cumming) dropped out because of "scheduling conflicts," despite a promised opening this fall.
It seems only fitting that the first, best superhero get a jump on that punk Peter Parker.
Funny thing is, Moriarty almost didn't make It's a Bird... when it was first offered to him. That was in 2008, when Moriarty was in New York meeting with Strouse's manager, Carolyn Rossi Copeland, about something unrelated to the Superman show. At which point, of course, the subject came up. Moriarty couldn't help himself: He asked if they ever planned to do anything with it. She said no, it's just sitting there, help yourself. He took a copy of the script—suddenly, his boyhood dream in the palm of his hands!
"And I read it with a lot of excitement—and then thought, 'Oh, this has not dated well,'" Moriarty told me days after the April 2009 announcement. "In its time it was probably fresh and funny: Both Pop Art and camp were new and surprising in 1966, and we were at the nadir of superheroes at the time. People didn't take comics or superheroes seriously, and the musical sent all that up, which is not where we are now. Our relationship with superheroes has changed."
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?
Strouse and Adams, though, they'd like to see their Superman back on Broadway. Oh, how delicious—it would be like the good ol' days: Superman vs. Spider-Man. The Battle of the Century, as it was called in the 1976 comic in which the DC and Marvel comics heroes slugged it out. Only this time, they could have a sing-off.
Strouse especially loves the thought of that.
"It would be a feather in everyone's cap if it took off again in Dallas," he says. "Broadway shows manage to gather history about them just by being. There are legends that gather about writers, directors. There's a golden glow about Broadway, and this aspires to that, so all the chips are very valuable. The most expensive show dreamed of is Spider-Man. So it's really a battle—in our minds, at least—between the giants. And we know who's going to win. Nobody beats Superman, and nobody ever will."
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Dallas, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.