Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's SUPERMAN", the 1966 Broadway Musical


Bob Holiday as Superman
Long before Spiderman made his singing/dangling Broadway debut, "It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SUPERMAN" the legendary Broadway Superman musical comedy which came so close to becoming a hit, opened in March 1966 and closed in July after only 129 performances.
By the mid-sixties Superman was fairly dormant, appearing mainly in (by then) bland DC comic books. The TV series starring George Reeves had been off the air for almost a decade and the Superman movies were still another decade away. A Broadway musical reviving The Man of Steel seemed like a good idea, after all, "Li'l Abner", a musical also based on a famous comic strip had been a huge hit a decade earlier.

The show starred Jack Cassidy as a new character, unscrupulous Daily Planet gossip columnist Max Menchen (loosely based on Walter Winchell). Also featured were Linda Lavin (fresh from The MAD Show) as Max's Girl Friday Sydney, Patricia Marand as Lois Lane, Michael O'Sullivan (overly sweaty & spitty) as a lunatic-professor bent on Superman's destruction, 10 time Nobel prize loser Dr. Abner Sedgwick, and a 6 foot/4 inch, square-jawed baritone, the imposing yet throughly likable Bob Holiday as Superman/Clark Kent.


Bob Holiday

The music was composed by Charles Strouse with lyrics by Lee Adams who both also conceived the idea for the show, and the book was by the writing team of David Newman & Robert Benton, fresh from Esquire magazine (Their next collaboration was the screenplay for Bonnie & Clyde). The lively production was directed by Hal Prince.

Linda Lavin, Bob Holiday, Jack Cassidy,
 (sitting) Joan Hotchkis, originally cast
as Lois Lane
So what went wrong? Why did this show fail to find an audience? There has been a lot of speculation on why the show finally didn't succeed. The reviews were generally very good, with Stanley Kauffmann in the NY Times declaring it "Fun" and adding "...and amusing. How nice it is to go to a purported entertainment and actually be entertained". Yet perhaps damaging was a newspaper strike that soon hit New York and the show wasn't able to publicize itself properly. Hal Prince's direction was fast-paced and innovative, colorful "pop-art" sets, comic strip panels and sound effects brought to life on stage, Superman flying across the stage, large, break-away props crumbling via Superman's punches, etc.

 The campy script was funny and witty, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. The score by Adams & Strouse was clever, (a song that actually references Quogue), brassy and melodic, much like their earlier score for "Bye Bye Birdie". I saw a matinee of the show, (at age 7), along with my two brothers in mid-1966 and we loved the show and the music, especially the effect of Superman flying back and forth across the stage, growing smaller as he faded into the sky (miniature prop versions of Superman replaced the wired Bob Holiday in the foreground).
Bob Holiday channels Mary Martin

The main problem might have been that the talented and appealing star,
actor/singer/dancer Jack Cassidy was actually the star of the show, playing a charming but nasty, spiteful character, (he loathes Superman, seeks his destruction and has a crush on Lois), and had far more stage time than  Superman/Clark Kent. In a show supposedly about Superman, kids simply wanted more... Superman! I know I did. Still, even with Jack Cassidy in the lead, even with positive notices, most adults just weren't ready to pay for an evening out at the theatre to see a show about a comic book super hero who had basically always been aimed at children. It was perhaps ahead of it's time. The other dilemma was that in January of 1966 the BATMAN TV show had  premiered on ABC and by March BATMANIA was sweeping the country.

1966 LIFE which
included the Superman
musical inside
So, why should people pay top dollar to schlep into New York to see a campy Superman Broadway musical when you could stay at home and watch the latest campy adventures of Batman and fun celebrity guest villains twice a week on TV for free? In this case, Batman trounced Superman. In the words of David Newman: "It was the overdose of pop-camp that really hurt us" with Benton adding "We got caught up in a capelash".

Still, the musical has been revived a number of times, (including a watered-down version for ABC TV in 1975, with many of the songs cut), is fondly remembered by adults who saw it as children, and has developed a cult following. The first-rate original soundtrack is available on CD/MP3 to discover and/or rediscover.
/Its-Bird-Plane-Superman/dp/B001BG0O5S/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1371218283&sr=8-2&keywords=Its+a+Bird%2C+It%27s+a+plane%2C+It%27s+superman

Newman & Benton would later co-write the first Superman film, (along with Leslie Newman and Mario Puzo), borrowing several plot devices first used in their Superman Broadway script.

Charles Strouse would have far greater
success writing the music for the
hit musical comedy "Annie" in 1977,
another show based on a comic strip.

"Dynamic Duo", David Newman &
Robert Benton, from Newsweek
After appearing in several brief revivals of the show, Bob Holiday retired from acting to open a successful custom home building company, (Holiday Homes), in the Catskill mountains in upstate NY. He's still robust  at age 81 and very proud of forever being the "musical Superman". So much for the "Superman Curse".

One sad note, no mention was made, nor any credit given in any of the show's advertising or publicity to Superman's actual creators, writer Jerry Siegel & artist Joe Shuster who conceived the character as teenagers in the late thirties. Using incredibly poor judgement, they had signed away all their rights to Superman years earlier.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It's_a_Bird...It's_a_Plane...It's_Superman


Linda Lavin sings the show-stopper "You've Got Possibilities" to Clark Kent,
a song that would become a night club standard for years

Matt Monro sings "You've Got Possibilities"...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vHM2LoYqsa8

Barrie Chase dings and dances to "You've Got Possibilities" on "the Hollywood Palace"...
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dK_jWLWY4Ko
Patricia Marand dances with Jack Cassidy
From LIFE magazine: Bob Holiday posed as Superman flying over Times Square

Bob Holiday posed with and as Superman
The front of Broadway's Alvin theater on W. 52nd St (now the Neil Simon theatre) in early 1966

Alvin promo art for the show

Al Hirschfeld's illustration ran
 in the NY Times on Sunday, March 27th,
two days before the show opened.

Stanley Kauffmann's full NY Times review

Don Chastain and Patricia Marand sing "We Don't Matter"

a poster for the new musical

the shows Playbill
a newspaper ad for the show

the creators behind the show, LtoR: author Robert Benton, lyricist Lee Adams, author David Newman, composer Charles Strouse

Bob Holiday as Superman with adoring go-go dancers

Superman in action,  color photos of the show...

and confronting one of the Chinese villains

Bob Holiday, an incredibly charming Superman
greets the audience...

and as mild mannered reporter Clark Kent

Bob Holiday as Clark Kent holds Linda Lavin singing: "You've Got Possibilities"

Brief footage of Bob Holiday as Superman used within the show

Bob Holiday had a terrific baritone singing voice. Here he is transforming
 into Clark Kent while singing the show's opening number
 "Every Man Has A Job To Do"

Superman performing a choke hold on
one of the shows (Chinese) villains

After the shows weekend matinees, Bob Holiday, still dressed in his Superman costume, would greet children backstage, pose for photos, admonish them to do their homework and drink their milk and then sign autographs. My brothers and I had the pleasure of meeting him after we saw the show on a Saturday afternoon and he instantly scooped up my wide-eyed, then five year old brother Kipp and hoisted him WAY above his head. This had a profound effect on Kipp who firmly believed that Bob Holiday was indeed Superman. Kipp writes about the experience in his upcoming memoir "Barracuda in the Attic".

LtoR: Barry Mitchell, his brother Arthur and friend Michael visit Bob Holiday backstage at
the Alvin (photo courtesy Barry Mitchell)

Bob Holiday signing a program for a young fan

the stars of It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman:
Patricia Marand, Jack Cassidy, Michael O'Sullivan, Linda Lavin, Don Chastain

Opening night,
Bob Holiday, Patricia Marand, Shirley Jones (Mrs. Jack Cassidy), Jack Cassidy

Linda Lavin, Jack Cassidy

Jack Cassidy, Patricia Marand

a set from the show, the citizens of Metropolis singing the praises of
Superman within comic strip panels

a 1966 carpet ad from the Ladies Home Journal featuring Bob Holiday as
Clark Kent & Superman

a 1966 Aqua Velva commercial with Bob Holiday as Superman
http://www.supermanbobholiday.com/Broadway/AquaVelva.htm



Bob Holiday appears as Superman on "I've
Got a Secret"

cover to the show's Souvenir Program...

Uh, Oh...Logo Theft!!
http://www.scottedelman.com/2013/07/27/its-a-bird-its-a-plane-its-logo-theft/

and all the contents...











Cast cut-outs from the program's back cover

sheet music featuring the show's theme song

more sheet music,  a song that was finally cut from the show

the soundtrack album cover...

and clever back cover, laid out like a page from the Daily Planet


"Dino, Desi & Billy"  had a moderate hit singing " It's Superman"

Attempting to cash in... an album from 1966 by a group
calling themselves "The Supermen"

Bob Holiday revives Superman in 1967

Visit Bob Holiday's fun Website here:
http://www.supermanbobholiday.com/BobHome.htm

Bob Holiday's book on "It's a Bird,
It's a Plane, It's Superman"

8 comments:

  1. I was going to do something about Superman on my blog but now I don't have to! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Exhaustive- Jeezuus Drew.

    What a great piece. I was fascinated with this show as a kid, and I knew I had no chance of ever seeing it. For me it was enough that it existed.

    As an actor, Jack Cassidy was a great caricature of a human. A Barrymore profile and a personality that stood up to the abuses of fame. When he died he left an imprint and a teen heartthrob of a son.

    I can't think of a contemporary equivalent to him. Nope.

    ReplyDelete
  3. What a gift to see this site -- thank you!

    I played Dr. Sedgwick in a high school production of this musical and it was one of the best theatrical experiences of my life.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So glad you apparently never threw anything away. Some great material for your blog.

    Side note:

    I just wrote a brief piece on a couple of street artists in Havana. Talented guys working for tips.

    http://mzagst.blogspot.com/2013/06/cuba.html

    ReplyDelete
  5. Great blog post! So much stuff I've never even seen, and I've collected bits about this show for years! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  6. So great to see all of this material you've gathered, Drew. This is one of many shows at the time I knew all about and didn't get to see. But I did vicariousy, just as I do that special era each time you tangibly transport us there.

    ReplyDelete
  7. It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman... LOGO THEFT!

    via Scott Edelman...

    http://www.scottedelman.com/2013/07/27/its-a-bird-its-a-plane-its-logo-theft/

    ReplyDelete
  8. This is so great!! I'm a huge Superman fan and a fan of this musical! What a treat to see all these photos. I was lucky enough to have seen the concert version at City Center this past March and with the success of that and the success of Man of Steel as well as Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, I hope this show can be revived soon on Broadway!

    ReplyDelete