The "S" Is for Show Tune: The Story Behind the Superman Musical

By Laurence Maslon
19 Mar 2013

Charles Strouse
Alas, when the show landed at the Alvin Theater in March of 1966, the Main Stem critics never knew quite what to make of it. The show opened 10 weeks after the network television debut of "Batman," whose twice-weekly adventures became a national phenomenon.

Conventional wisdom has it that Batman's camp antics were box office Kryptonite to It's a Bird...It's a Plane…It's Superman, but that's neither accurate nor fair; the musical was far more charming and far less self-referential and contrived. The reality is that, back then, there really wasn't a strategy to create a market where both kids and their parents could enjoy the same show, a challenge clearly mastered in the 21st century by such giants as Disney and Pixar.

But, fittingly, "the Man of Tomorrow" was ahead of his time. Superman shrugged off the 129-performance defeat of his musical adventure and soon streaked forward to save the day elsewhere: five major motion pictures (the first two co-scripted by Benton and Newman; a sixth is on its way this May); two more successful TV series; a half-dozen animated adventures; and thousands of new exploits in print. Superman has evolved into the most triumphant character in American culture, and this spring's Encores! concert version of It's a Bird...It's a Plan...It's Superman allows fans of both musicals and comic books to see him once again in one of his finest two hours. As his adventures inconclusively conclude: "To be continued . . ."

(Laurence Maslon is an associate arts professor at NYU. With producer Michael Kantor, he is preparing a three-hour documentary, "Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle," for PBS in the fall of 2013.)

This feature appears in the April 2013 Playbill for City Center Encores!