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"It's a Bird It's a Plane It's Superman" was the unwieldy (and
comma-less) title of a 1966 Broadway musical that ran for less than
four months. The score by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams produced not a
single hit song ... although "You've Got Possibilities" was recorded in
England by Matt Munro. 'Superman' was such a resounding failure that,
years later, when Martin Charnin approached Strouse to write the tunes
for a musical comedy about Little Orphan Annie, Strouse almost refused
because he'd already had one flop musical about a comic-book character!
('Annie' became the biggest hit in Strouse's songbook.)
Many bizarre (or Bizarro) decisions were made in the musical 'Superman', chiefly the decision to eliminate most of the established characters. The Broadway musical has no Perry White, no Jimmy Olsen. (They show up briefly in this tele-version.) Superman wastes a lot of time fighting some larcenous Chinese acrobats (played by white actors) who seem more like Batman's sort of villains. The main villain here is an evil scientific genius in the tradition of Lex Luthor ... but he isn't Lex Luthor. Apparently the producers of 'Superman' didn't want to pay DC Comics for the rights to use the Luthor character, so they named their villain "Doctor Abner Sedgwick". In the Broadway production (but not in this TV version), the actor playing Dr Sedgwick wore long flowing hair, just to make sure we all understood he wasn't the famously chrome-domed Lex Luthor.
The lead character in the 'Superman' musical isn't even Superman, Clark Kent, Lois Lane or anyone else in the established superhero canon: it's Max Mencken (who?), an egotistical reporter at the Daily Planet who wants to destroy Superman due to sheer envy. Mencken actually has more time onstage than Superman and Clark Kent together! (And more songs.) In 1966 the big-name Broadway actor Jack Cassidy was looking for a star vehicle, so the 'Superman' production team built up the minor role of Mencken in order to attract Cassidy and take advantage of his box-office name value. This was a fatal error: a musical about Superman ought to be ABOUT Superman.
'ABC Wide World of Entertainment' wasn't so much a TV series as it was an irregular time slot. In the 1970s, whenever ABC-TV had a piece of programming that didn't fit any established niche, they bunged it into whatever late-night slot was available and called it 'Wide World of Entertainment'. The most notorious example of this was the 'Monty Python' special which ABC-TV aired at midnight: several Python episodes were drastically recut to fit the time slot, provoking a famous lawsuit from the Python comedians.
The 1975 television production of "It's a Bird It's a Plane It's Superman" -- transmitted under ABC's 'Wide World of Entertainment' rubric -- is a re-staging of the Broadway show, with a new cast. This is a VERY bad musical special, done on a criminally low budget. The entire production is filmed on a cramped sound stage. The musical numbers, which were bad in the first place, are staged in a very unimaginative manner.
In the Broadway version, the nearest thing to a hit song was "You've Got What I Need, Baby", a duet sung by Mencken and Sedgwick when they decide to team up in a plot to kill Superman. Staged on Broadway, this was a rousing up-tempo number that efficiently closed the first act. In this 1975 TV version, the song is stodged down so that Kenneth Mars and David Wayne can perform it with arthritic slowness.
A (very minor) musical high point occurs in the song "You've Got Possibilities" when Loretta Swit, as the villainess, attempts to seduce mild-mannered Clark Kent, whom she doesn't realise is really Superman. When Linda Lavin performed this number in the Broadway production, there was an element of suspense when she sang the line "underneath, there's something there" while she started to unbutton Clark's shirt ... nearly discovering the big Superman "S" underneath. This clever staging was omitted in the TV version, and nothing better is brought in to replace it. Swit's singing voice is smoky and appropriately vampy, but weak.
This TV special does have one poignant moment that didn't occur in the Broadway original, when Superman meets two teenage fans named Jerry and Joe who want to write stories about him and draw pictures of him. This is a subtle reference to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the real-life teenagers from Cleveland who created Superman in the 1930s and sold the character to National Periodical Publications. I wish that "It's a Bird It's a Plane It's Superman" had more moments like this. I'll rate this terrible show only one point out of 10. Pass the Kryptonite.
The Broadway show was not the greatest contribution to the Superman myth, but it was enjoyable. Peggy Lee recorded "You've Got Possibilities" but I don't remember if that was the one I heard several times on the radio. The show had many clever lyrics. My favorite was "It's a satisfying feeling when you hang up your cape/to know that you've averted murder, larceny, and rape!" And the rhyme of "quite a dish" with "solid as a knish." And in "Revenge," where Prof. Sedgwick bemoans being passed over for the Nobel Prize, laments: ....They gave the prize to Harold Urey./The shocking thing about the matter is/My heavy hydrogen was heavier than his! And plenty more. I remember many of the songs pretty well, almost 40 years later.
The Broadway production was named in the Broadway ten best list for
that year. You've got Possibilities was recorded by Jane Morgan, Edie
Gourme and Streisand. The staging was by the legendary director Hal
Prince. The writers of the book enentually used some of their often
humorous story as part of the screenplay that they eventually wrote for
the Christopher Reeve film.
The TV production was unfortunate in being broadcast out of prime time, and it did look cheap. Best line ... when Perry White receives a news article from a reporter and says "Rosebud..a sled!!!! no one will believe that!". Was anyone paying attention? Why do people on this board keep saying there was no Perry White? Even the Broadway production had a Perry White, played byEric Mason. It was Hal Prince the director who replaced the character of Jimmy Olsen with a more mature pragnmatic character named Jim Morgan. This vharcter was cut from the TV production. Benton and Newman's main plot line and tongue in cheek humor are maintained in the Salkind film. The biggest objection to the Broadway show was it looked too much like Bye Bye Birdie, and the villains parts were bigger than Superman's or Lois Lane's.
This movie could have been awesome, but it misses the mark. It's a
Superman Musical, based on a Broadway flop, and aired at 11:30 at
night; you know it's not going to be Oscar material. But the fun comes
in that the movie knows it's bad, and revels in it. It bears its cheese
like a badge of honour, and as such actually comes close to being
pretty good. It's cheesy, low-budget, and self-referential: three of my
favourite things. Plus, it's narrated by Gary Owens, which makes it
hard to go wrong.
But there's two problems: 1. It goes on way too long. There's only maybe 20 minutes of plot, tops, stretched into an hour and a half. This is due largely to 2. The songs. There's a whole lot of them, and they're not very well written. In fact, when you get down to it, some of them are really badly written. The rhyme schemes are haphazard and lackluster, the tunes are decent but nothing special, and in general, they all end up being pretty forgettable.
The songs also tend to repeat themselves a lot, stretching a single point into five or six verses... Then repeating several of those five or six verses over for emphasis. It gets boring very quickly. And since a large portion of the movie is devoted to the songs, the movie also gets old pretty quickly.
Still... For all of its flaws, it ends up being a fairly enjoyable movie. And as bad as it is... It's still not nearly as bad as The Adventures of Superpup.
If you look past the low budget, terrible visual effects, casting
errors and a very uneven score, you might enjoy this tele-movie based
on the failed Broadway show.
At least everyone on screen appears to be having a great time, especially Loretta Swit who steals the show with two great musical numbers.
The plot follows the attempts of mad doctor Abner Sedgewick and reporter Max Mencken to destroy Superman for comic reasons. Respected actor David Wayne fails as a song and dance man but shines as Swdgewick.
Looking as if it was filmed in a garage the production features amateurish choreography lame humor.
Still, I really enjoyed the program as a kid in the 70s and after seeing it again recently, as bad as it is, it still leaves a smile.
What else do you need?
Campy TV musical about Superman, adapted from a short-lived Broadway show from 1966. It's fun at first, with its cheesy sets and costumes and very corny songs. But a little bit goes a long way and this thing wears out its welcome long before the hour mark and it goes on another half-hour past that. There are some recognizable faces in this, such as Lesley Ann Warren, Loretta Swit, Kenneth Mars, and poor David Wayne, who had certainly done better than this earlier in his career. It's something Superman fans will want to track down and see, for laughs if nothing else. I can't see musical enthusiasts getting much enjoyment out of it though. The numbers are all pretty amateurish. Anyway, give it a look if you're a die-hard Supes fan or if you just like things that are so bad you can laugh at them.
I recommend tracking down the best quality version of this you can
find, as there are some pretty horrible versions out there.
I have seen this twice now. It's mostly quite boring, it's silly, many of the jokes are dumb, and the songs aren't that catchy. As a musical, there's not much of a reason to go looking for this. The same goes for those who are after a good Superman-movie. This isn't it. Superman is an overly insecure side-character in this story, that mostly revolves around the goofy villains.
But if you like so-bad-it's-good, things that are campy, or just interesting pieces of popular culture - then you can do worse than this musical. It's interesting to note that the people who wrote it, also took part in writing the 1978 Superman-movie (maybe this explains why both movies featuring Superman using x-ray to look at underwear). For superman-fans, you might notice how the creators of Superman, Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, appears as characters in the movie. As a Norwegian, I took great delight in the villain's end goal being to destroy Sweden(!). And there are some gags in the movie that are genuinely funny.
That said, the movies doesn't take itself seriously on any level, and there's not much more than the novelty of it, that makes this worth a watch.
I saw this production of the musical on late night TV at the age of 15. Yes, the production values aren't that great, but Loretta Switt has 2 great numbers as mentioned in other comments. You've Got Possibilities and Oooh, Do You Love You!-which shows what a spectacular belt voice she has. Although pretty bad, I remember at the time finding it really funny. The updated 70's orchestrations are really fun too and Leslie Anne Warren as well as Kenneth Mars and David Wayne are funny. The original Broadway production got critical raves, but the show couldn't find an audience as Batman was the show everyone was watching at the time. Hello Dolly & Funny Girl opened the same season as well which didn't help matters. The show got lost in the shuffle.
The star of the 1966 stage musical "It's a Bird ...It's a Plane...It's
Superman!" wasn't Jack Cassidy, it was Bob Holiday (in the double role
of Superman/Clark Kent). Cassidy was the featured comic villain.The
situation was that Cassidy was so right for his role, he stole most of
the attention from Holiday.
Let me say, too, that it's wrong to approach this material expecting the Superman of the Salkind movies. It's closer, in attitude, to pre-Tim Burton "Batman" or the '60s "Thoroughly Modern Millie." In other words, jokey and silly and not a little racist. Only the problem, in this case, was a central uncertainty whether to parody its source material or to revere it.
Can't speak to this particular TV adaptation. I do, however, love several of the songs in the stage version -- notably "You've Got Possibilities" and "Oo-oo, Do You Love You!"
and thought it was the stupidest thing I ever saw. For starters this was not the Superman in the comics. Where was Lex Luthor, Perry White, Jimmy Olsen? They're not here. Also the guy who played Superman could act--but wasn't muscular and couldn't sing. The songs I remember were dreadful, the sets were made of cardboard, the special effects abysmal (even by 1975 TV standards), the jokes totally unfunny and most of the cast overacted to a ridiculous degree. I do remember sort of liking Loretta Swit...but that's about it. There's a GOOD reason this isn't available on video or DVD...it's just horrible. Makes the "Batman" TV show of the 1960s look like high art. A 1.
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