What does it mean to be a hero?
In an age of chaos, it seems we’re all looking for one. Hollywood has answered our collective thirst with a plethora of superhero films and TV series, and audiences have flocked. Now, musical theatre has something to say on the subject—albeit from a more grounded place.
Pulitzer Prize– and Tony-winning composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) and Tony-winning writer John Logan (Red, Broadway’s upcoming Moulin Rouge!) joined forces to create the world-premiere musical Superhero, now running through March 31 at Second Stage Off-Broadway.
Charlotte (Tony nominee Kate Baldwin) and her 15-year-old son Simon (newcomer Kyle McArthur), suffering the loss of their husband and father, decide to move homes, schools, and jobs, and start fresh. When the mysterious Jim (Tony nominee Bryce Pinkham) moves in next door, Simon— who finds comfort in the fantasy and heroics of comic books—becomes convinced that Jim keeps to himself because he is secretly a real-life superhero.
“The story speaks to things that I’m passionate about,” says Kitt, “how we live, how we deal with loss and grief and adversity and how we are brave, and how our loved ones and the people around us do extraordinary things, how every day you have heroes in your life.”
Kitt hatched the idea behind Superhero over a decade ago. Kitt had seen—and marveled at—Red; Logan had seen—and been staggered by—Next to Normal. When Logan decided he wanted to explore the challenge of writing his first musical, there was one person he wanted to meet. “[Tom] started telling me this idea [for what is now Superhero] and I said yes immediately in the room,” says Logan, “and since then we’ve been building and building and building.” Now they have top tier talent to inhabit it.
“I was in love with it from the very beginning,” Baldwin gushes. “To have a single mom as the central character in a show is unusual—and a single mom who’s struggling with how to encourage her son to view the world as a place of possibility, a place of optimism, a place of healing, and who is dealing with real grief. For me, it’s about: How do you raise a kid? What choices do you make?’”
These are questions Kitt, now a father of three, confronts every day, and he uses this latest work to grapple with the trials of parenthood. “Next to Normal I started writing when I was 24, and I think there’s a lot of the kid in that show. Superhero is 20 years later and I’m on the parent side of it,” says Kitt. “You want to protect [your kids] and say, ‘Of course, it’s going to be OK,’ but what I can do is I can make art and say, ‘There is such fullness in the world. There are things to feel excited about. To feel hopeful about. I don’t have all the answers and you won’t have all the answers either, but you have to believe in things, in forces, in goodness.’”
Superhero marks the first time Kitt has written music and lyrics, and he channels his complete spectrum (and depth) of emotion into the score.
“Tom’s music is the most lush and the most emotionally honest music I think I’ve ever heard,” says choreographer Lorin Latarro. “The emotionality and kind of love that a parent has for their children is so present in this music. You feel like you’re bathed in it.”
“On that notion of superhero stuff, it’s sweeping, cinematic, grand, and bold, and in other parts it’s raw, powerful and human,” says McArthur.
“He’s such a good songsmith that it makes me want him to write everything,” Baldwin adds.
Paired with Logan’s delicate writing, the product is a deeply passionate, humorous, hopeful show. “I cannot think of another show that is as emotionally cathartic as this show,” says Latarro. “It is so beautiful and so honest and the whole thing is so cohesive and it is directed with the nuance of a play, but it has this music that is overflowing.”
That visceral impact is what Logan wants audiences to experience. “I don’t want people going out and talking about ‘the book,’” he says. “I want them to talk about the emotion and how they’ve been touched by it—which is what the music does.”
“The simplicity of their writing,” says director Jason Moore, “it’s what’s great about the best musical theatre. It’s like that moment in church you just stand there in the spotlight.”
That elusive moment of revelation and reverence is what drives Kitt, especially. “I went back and recently watched Superman, the original from 1978, and in the first five minutes I’m in tears and all that’s happening are the names are flying through space and John Williams’ music is playing,” Kitt says. “But that feeling—the wonder and imagination—and how the things in this musical speak to that, I wanted to put something out there really for my kids to latch onto the way I did to that Superman movie back when I was four years old.”
“The protean fire behind [the show] was Tom’s need to tell this story—his belief that it was important, meaningful, and it was moving. Tom is my touchstone for: what’s the truth we’re creating and is it good enough?” says Logan. “So far, it is.”