Archive for March 18th, 2014

Review – Superman (the musical) – Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre

March 18, 2014

C’mon, be honest: the phrase “Superman: the Musical” probably made you want to run away screaming, right? You’re imagining the overblown bleah of Spiderman meets, I don’t know, the musical know-how (or “ready to capitalize on anything”) of Viva Forever (much in the same way The X Men begat The Green Hornet)? So what if I told you it was actually written in the 60s by the musical team that wrote Bye Bye Birdie? And that the whole thing is performed in a tongue-in-cheek style that was a bit Benny Hill meets Mad Men?

While any play that’s sat on the back burner (this is its London debut) can normally be written off as a waste of stage time, Superman, as done by Star Productions, managed to make being comic book style an advantage, with primary color sets and costumes that brought to mind Roy Lichtenstein. This was an era in which both sexism and racism played out differently from today, and I must admit I shuddered when I saw Ming Foo Ling and Ding Ling on the cast of characters – was this going to be another anti-Asian clunker? As it turns out, these weren’t our baddies, and casting the family of acrobats with Caucasians helped tone down what could have been a really ugly element of the show. As a bonus, well, acrobatics! We had people actually doing somersaults and backflips on the wee wee stage of the Rose & Crown, and I loved it.

Er, yes, plot: Superman (Craig Berry, making full use of his talent for the single-eyebrow lift) is happily ensconced as the hero of Metropolis, to the delight of Lois Lane (Michelle LaFortune, every inch the New York girl) and chagrin of reporter Paul Harwood (Max Mencken). But he’s not the only one who wants to bring him down: there is a villain (Matthew Hibbotson, hamming it up to 11) who sees popping Superman’s bubble of perfection as his means to personal fulfillment. As we make our way to the happy ending we get to see romances develop for both Clark Kent and Lois outside of their traditional roles (each other), which makes the plotting much more interesting. We also get to experience some very sassy relationship handling from Sydney the secretary (Sarah Kennedy), whose big solo “Ooh, Do You Love You?” was both really funny and a great showcase for a snazzy talent (once again confirming that I’m spoiled seeing fringe theater in London).

I actually don’t want to say too much about the show in case you’re thinking about going, because so many of the laughs I had were because of surprises that frequently came from the ironic way they handled nearly everything except, well, the great singing and the “how did they get so many people onstage” dancing. Even the special effects were fun despite being unapologetically on a budget. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d want to see this done with people taking everything seriously – it would have spoiled the fun. I’m really glad I made the hike up to Walthamstow to see this show – at £15 quid a ticket, it overdelivers value. Don’t miss it!

(This review is for the evening performance that took place on Saturday, March 15th, 2014. It continues through Saturday March 22nd.)