A Broadway flop in 1966 and grounded pretty much ever since, this shrieking obscurity from ‘Annie’ composer Charles Strouse is the product of another age, in which casual sexism and racism reigned supreme and you could summarise everything you needed to know about a superhero on the back of a matchbox.
All Star Productions’s revival – which began life in a pub in Walthamstow – might have come swooping in on a wave of global superhero mania, but it offers as little to comic book fans as it does to lovers of musical theatre.
The plot makes your average Adam West ‘Batman’ episode look like ‘Watchmen’, but it’s functional enough, a simple tale of frustrated mad scientist Dr Abner Sedgwick, long-denied the recognition he craves, mounting a plan to destroy Superman for no clear reason whatsoever. There’s a creepy side-plot involving an attempt by a perverted lab assistant to woo Lois Lane away from her caped crusader crush, and another involving womanising journalist Max Mencken making similar manoeuvres. It’s horribly dated and emphatically by-the-numbers.
Strouse manages a couple of winning tunes. ‘The Strongest Man in the World’ brings a micron more depth to Superman’s square-jawed posturing and ‘You’ve Got Possibilities’ is a comic cracker that’s since become something of a standard, but it’s mostly forgettable and Lee Adams’s lyrics match the music snore for snore.
All Star Productions have mounted some great revivals up at E17’s Ye Olde Rose & Crown Theatre, but their production values look painfully exposed on a larger stage. The cast attack this dead duck with vigour, but any resulting charm is torpedoed by off-colour gags about Chinese acrobats ‘The Flying Lings’ (they pronounce it ‘The Frying Rings’ – geddit? GEDDIT??) and arse-slapping choreography from Kate McPhee that plays like Sid James’s wet dream.
For all its enthusiasm, the show fails to justify its existence. Sometimes things stay dead for a reason. Sometimes there’s just no need. Where did I leave my Kryptonite?