By Laurence Maslon
19 Mar 2013
Square though he could be, the character of Superman piqued the interests of an up-and-coming team of journalists named Robert Benton and David Newman, who inquired after the musical stage rights for Superman in the early 1960s. Benton and Newman were among the first to realize that Superman was not just America's greatest superhero, he was one of America's greatest metaphors. Soon allied with the successful songwriting duo of Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie, Golden Boy), Benton and Newman fashioned an original story around the essentials of the Superman legend, as captured in the introduction to the 1950s TV series: "Superman — strange visitor from another planet, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men! Superman... who, disguised as Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, fights a never- ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way!"
Of course, the collaborators had another ace up their leotards: one of the great love stories of modern mythology. Star reporter Lois Lane is hopelessly enamored of our Kryptonian paragon, Superman, unaware that he is Clark Kent. At the same time, Superman keeps up the pretense that his alter ego, Clark Kent, is hopelessly enamored of Lois Lane. It's like a ménage a trois between two people.
By the time It's a Bird…It's a Plane...It's Superman rocketed to Broadway in the early '60s, now produced and directed by the rising Broadway maestro Harold Prince, the prevailing winds streaking past our hero had begun to change. Comic books were starting to become hip. Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein had been using a new style called Pop art, which traded on the bold colors, innocent resonance, and commercial acceptance of comic books (in fact, Warhol's first big break came in 1961 when he exhibited a huge silkscreen of — you guessed it — Superman).