Wonder what was happening to Superman between the end of The Adventures Of Superman TV series and before Superman: The Movie, well…not much. Other than the comics, Superman was not seen as the cool hero anymore with Batman taking over his mantel in the 1960s so where did that leave Supes to go to?
Yeah, a little backstory is necessary here.
It’s A Bird… It’s A Plane… It’s Superman is a musical with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Lee Adams, with a book by David Newman and Robert Benton. It is based on the comic book character Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and published by DC Comics.
The plot revolves around Superman’s efforts to defeat Dr. Abner Sedgwick, a ten-time Nobel Prize-losing scientist who seeks to avenge the scientific world’s dismissal of his brilliance by attempting to destroy the world’s symbol of good. Additionally, Superman comes into romantic conflict with Max Mencken, a columnist for the Daily Planet newspaper, who resents Lois Lane’s attraction to Superman, and later teams up with Sedgwick to destroy Superman.
The musical opened on Broadway at the Alvin Theatre on March 29, 1966. Directed by Harold Prince with choreography by Ernest Flatt, it starred Bob Holiday as Clark Kent and Superman, Patricia Marand as Lois Lane, Jack Cassidy as Max Mencken, and Linda Lavin as Sydney. The production received generally positive reviews, but it failed to catch on with the theater-going public and closed on July 17, 1966 after 129 performances. The musical received three Tony Award nominations, for Best Actor in a Musical (Cassidy), Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Michael O’Sullivan, playing the main villain), and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Marand). One of the songs from the score, “You’ve Got Possibilities” (introduced by Lavin), had some success outside the show as a nightclub and cabaret standard.
It was made into a TV special on February 1, 1975. Filmed on video over the course of 3 days, the show was significantly shortened, the script significantly changed, and the ethnicity of a troupe of evildoers was changed from Chinese acrobats to Mafia-style gangsters. The musical numbers “Doing Good”, “It’s Super Nice”, “So Long, Big Guy” and “We Don’t Matter at All” were all dropped from this production, while the sound of the remaining musical numbers was updated to a more contemporary 1970s sensibility. In addition to these, a new musical number was made for the TV special: “It’s a Great Country.” The show was broadcast on the ABC network under its Wide World of Entertainment late-night umbrella title to poor critical reception. It starred David Wilson as Superman/Clark Kent, Lesley Ann Warren as Lois Lane, Loretta Swit as Sydney Carlton, David Wayne as Dr. Abner Sedgwick, Allen Ludden as Perry White, and Kenneth Mars as Max Mencken. Viewers of this re-make felt that the TV production lacked the energy of the original Broadway show.
Honestly, while watching this special at first I was expecting a LOT worse but honestly…I don’t think this is nowhere near as bad as most people give it credit for. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great special nor is it a good adaptation of the Broadway musical which is supposedly pretty good from what I heard.
I think the main problem with this movie is that it feels like a last ditched effort to save the Superman franchise from a fate worse than death…but then again, we’ve had Superman IV and a Superman created by clearly-not-a-fan Zack Snyder so there’s far worse than this. But like I said before, Superman as a entertainment franchise was dying hard and nobody really knew what to do with them, this thing didn’t even air in primetime when it first aired, it was aired in late night television automatically cutting out half the audience it could’ve gotten.
One of the biggest problems off the bat is that the show was heavily trimmed from the original broadway show and the script and the editing shows that…gee, a Superman related project that has some of the worst chopping and editing ever, where have I heard of that before…but enough with Batman V Superman, let’s move on. They take a lot of the better moments from the show and just cut them out.
Also, the show looked way too much like a Broadway production, you’re turning a musical into a TV special, show that you are actually giving this a budget of a TV special, this looks cheap as all hell. Imagine if they brought Hamilton to TV and did this, it would’ve failed miserably. Actually, NBC should come in an do a live show based off this, they already made a better The Wiz movie than the 70s Wiz movie.
The casting is meh, Lesley Anne Warren, better known for her role as Miss Scarlet in Clue, is okay as Lois Lane but David Wilson as Superman, not so much, he tries his best but he just never really comes off as Superman at any point in this. He can sing the songs fine but as Superman, not that much charisma.
Speaking of the songs, they are some really good songs in this but again, a lot of the songs were dropped from the television production so it’s hard to compare the songs used in the movie compared to the actual show.
The biggest flaw is that the special is clearly trying to be tongue-in-cheek and makes it aware but it doesn’t make the jokes fly as well as the 60s Batman series did.
It’s A Bird…It’s A Plane…It’s Superman tries its’ hardest to be on the level of the 60s Batman show but it can’t connect, the stuff they trim out of this show really shows no connection, it’s a sloppy looking poorly executed adaptation of the Broadway musical with no well written element to put it back in the right direction. A sloppy mess, not the worst but certainly not one of the better DC specials, judge this one for yourself.