It’s one of the great lost pieces of Superman Americana. For three months in 1966, actor Bob Holiday starred as the Man of Steel in 129 performances of the Broadway musical It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman. While a cast recording was made and is readily available today, and a few promotional appearances from Holiday have turned up online, the actual production has been lost to the pages of history. All that remains is the incredibly cheesy and awful 1975 Late-Night ABC adaptation, which starred David Wilson (the less said about this Special, the better.)
You can understand why, in 1966, with the Pop Art fad raging and the success of L’il Abner and Annie that producers would have expected Superman to have been a huge hit. Part of what torpedoed the show, I am told, is the premiere of the BATMAN live action series. It seems that many potential theatergoers didn’t relish paying Broadway prices for tickets to something the essence of which they could get at home on the boob tube. Additionally, there was a bit of a disconnect, in that the production wasn’t intended for kids especially, but that’s who Superman appealed to the most.
Interestingly, whoever put together this Souvenir Program for the show thought little of buying a copy of MARVEL COLLECTORS’ ITEM CLASSICS off the newsstand and then cutting out and repurposing a bunch of the type from its cover. (The reproduction on that vintage Superman figure, presumably supplied by DC, is really lousy as well.)
The story was decidedly tongue-in-cheek, with Superman characterized as cartoonishly pure of heart and chaste, and the evil Dr. Abner Sedjwick plotting to destroy him through psychoanalysis–a hot-button concept in 1966. The Man of Steel is also bedeviled by the Daily Planet’s new columnist the self-promoting Max Mencken, who has his own designs on Lois Lane. There’s also a team of Chinese Acrobats whose depiction is frankly racist as hell, and who are there so that Superman has somebody to throw around at the climax.
Robert Benton and David Newman, who authored the book for the performance, were also among those who contributed to the screenplay for 1978’s SUPERMAN THE MOVIE. Their connection to the character, despite the lukewarm box office returns, was seen as a boon.
3 thoughts on “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman 1966 Souvenir Program”
I saw it in 2013 as when it was revived as part of City Center Theater’s Encore program. I really liked it actually. It probably suffered from being a little smarter than the room in 1966. I thought the satire in it was pretty sharp and the songs are really great and Sedgewick is a surprisingly entertaining villain. Would I have preferred something a little more “on model” with more of the actual comics characters? Maybe. (And Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa dramaturged a much more faithful version for a Dallas theater before DC nixed it). But I think it’s actually pretty good as it is, and is an underrated part of the Superman canon.
Cherie and I saw it in Pittsburgh Kansas, 1973 or 74, in which a fly-floor tech missed his cue as the star shouted “Up! Up and away!” After repeating the line twice more, the actor began to walk off-stage. The stagehand must have awakened at this point, because suddenly Superman flew off, stage left – backwards.
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It’s a great score-I remember singing We Don’t Matter at All in college! And it made it to a then annual 10 best plays of the year book I always found at the library. It is oddly constructed–the best songs went to minor characters. But I really wish I’d have seen it!