By: Paulanne Simmons
March 31, 2019: Superhero has a book by John Logan who won a Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Drama League award for his play Red, and is credited with many films, including Sweeney Todd and Any Given Sunday. Music, lyrics and orchestrations are by Tom Kitt, whose Next to Normal won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, as well as Tony Awards for best score and best orchestrations. And the direction is by Broadway and off-Broadway veteran Jason Moore (The Cher Show, Fully Committed, Shrek).
All the above makes it especially amazing that Superhero stumbles in so many ways.
Logan creates a promising situation. Fifteen-year-old Simon (Kyle McArthur), whose father died two years ago, and his mother, Charlotte (Kate Baldwin), have moved away and tried to move on, but their relationship is fraught with unresolved conflict and their lives are filled with pain. Simon takes refuge in comic books. Kate tries to escape into her work (she’s an assistant professor of English) and the book she can’t seem to complete.
However, when they become friendly with their neighbor, Jim (Bryce Pinkham), an unemployed and mysterious bus driver, we are led to believe something plot-worthy is going to happen. When this turns out not to be the case we are disappointed. Logan even gives Simon a love interest, his classmate Vee (Salena Quereshi), but they never get further than talking about the environment.
Logan doesn’t supply the specifics that make characters genuinely compelling. Even the luminous Baldwin and the very substantial Pinkham and McArthur cannot bring these characters to full and complete life.
Kitt’s songs seldom advance the action. In fact, they’re almost never part of the action. Instead, we hear one interior monologue after another, as the characters comment on how they feel about what has just happened. Most of the time the orchestrations are more interesting than the melody.
If there’s one person on the creative team who doesn’t seem to have been sleeping on the job, that’s Beowulf Boritt whose set incorporates Charlotte and Simon’s apartment as well as the fire escape where Simon reads and writes comic book adventures. The back-lit cityscape is an ever-present reminder that the world does exist beyond our personal woes.
Adolescent angst by itself is seldom the stuff of great musicals, or great plays. The title may lead us to believe differently, but unfortunately the kind of superhero that would save this musical never arrives.
Superhero runs through March 31, 2019 at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, 305 West 43 Street.
Photography: Joan Marcus