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

By Laurence Maslon
19 Mar 2013

Edward Watts and Jenny Powers
Edward Watts and Jenny Powers
Photo by Joan Marcus

Clark Kent and Lois Lane sing in the satiric and swingin' 1960s musical It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman, being revived in an Encores! concert. Learn how Superman found his voice on Broadway.


He was the first among never quite equals. From the moment Superman burst forth onto the monochromatic world of the Depression in the spring of 1938, heaving a green Studebaker at some baggy-suited malefactors on the cover of "Action Comics" #1, he defined the universe of the superhero. Within months, there were dozens of 10-cent comic books featuring do-gooders in capes and tights; within a year, these new costumed adventurers were selling millions of copies every month to 11-year-olds across the nation.

Yet, even in the wake of this publishing phenomenon, Superman zoomed to the forefront. Within the first decade of his existence, Superman was the first comic book superhero to be given a daily syndicated comic strip; the first to be given his own radio show; the first to be featured in animated cartoons; the first to have a primetime television series; the first to — well, you get the picture. So, it's only fitting that some four decades before another Spandex-clad superhero got tangled up in blue (and red) in the fly space of the Foxwoods Theater, Superman was also the first to get his own Broadway musical: the 1966 It's a Bird...It's a Plane…It's Superman.

In many ways, Superman is an ideal subject for a musical. Comic books and musicals are purely American creations; both are colorful, larger-than-life, and embrace a "nothing-can-stop-me-now" optimism. Indeed, the character was created in the depths of the Depression by two twentysomething Jewish kids from Cleveland with the kind of aspirations and determination that could have been bottled and sold for a Broadway musical. Jerry Siegel, the writer, and Joe Shuster, the artist, spent five years of ongoing rejection by every national newspaper syndicate in their attempts to see Superman in print. Eventually, Detective Comics, Inc., in a desperate effort to fill 13 of the 64 pages of a new comic book, bought the rights to Superman — for a work-for-hire fee of $130. Siegel and Shuster continued to script and illustrate his exploits into the late 1940s, while Superman flew up, up, and away into the stratosphere of American popular culture.


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