Review of Second Stage Theater's Superhero at Tony Kiser Theater

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    March 4, 2019
    Review by:

    Better than anything I’ve seen in a long time, Superhero reminds us how fickle is the alchemy of stage magic. Superhero boasts a book by John Logan (Red), music & lyrics by Tom Kitt (Next to Normal), and direction by Jason Moore (where to start?). You can imagine the pitch to the backers — how could it miss? Yet it does.

    The book: Young Simon and his mom are at odds. Simon has survived an automobile accident that killed his dad. With little success, the wounded family struggles to recover. The teenager is obsessed with superheroes and with creating superheroic comics — he draws. Charlotte, the mom, is stuck. She cannot reach Simon, nor can she get on with her own life. Enter Jim, the odd, reclusive guy down the hall.

    You might say there is something for everyone here — love and loss, teenaged angst, loss of innocence, aliens (the space kind), comic books cum graphic art, the existential struggle of good vs. evil, even earnest ecological concerns. (Thelma Ritter’s droll observation about Eve Harrington’s histrionic story comes to mind: “Everything but the bloodhounds snapping at her rear end.”)

    The music saves more than a few maudlin moments. Kate Baldwin (Charlotte) keeps a tight rein on her powerhouse voice, offering a lot of subtlety. Her solo just before curtain is wrenching — that rare and graceful melding of acting with music. Her duets with Bryce Pinkham, larded with piercing harmonies, get your attention. Pinkham’s sound is, in its way, other-worldly, edgy, and interesting — a perfect fit for the odd character he plays. His acting chops are evident.

    Kyle McArthur’s Simon is hard to like, as he thrashes from impotent rage to brief moments of desperation. He’s at full gallop and lacking transitions.

    The crew wisely kept the effects — clever projection and illusion — relatively simple, mirroring the comic book motif. The choreography was nifty. Not one Simon in a red hoody, but lots of Simons caught in the slightly different moments that show movement on a comic page. Again, simple but nifty.

    There are plenty of parallels between Superhero, off-Broadway at Second Stage Theater's Tony Kiser Theater, and Dear Evan Hansen (six Tony awards) still on Broadway: Both feature remote boys with distraught moms, fatherless families and more. As you can still get a ticket to the latter, that’s the way to go.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    "Superhero, which opened on Thursday at Second Stage Theater, in a production directed by Jason Moore, is a misfire. Authors with golden track records for serious work (the songs are by Tom Kitt; the book, by John Logan) have somehow created a musical so lugubrious and underpowered that it never gets off the ground."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "Book writer Logan’s imagined world is thin, so most of the characters remain sketches. And Kitt, capable of writing heartbreakers like Next To Normal, composes a series of repetitive, un-marvelous numbers that slide out of your memory almost as you’re hearing them."
    Helen Shaw for Time Out New York

    "Bryce Pinkham is the Johnny Depp of musical theater. Give him a wildly eccentric/bizarre/screwed-up character, like the lovable serial killer in A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, and he is the best singing actor on Broadway. But like Depp in the movies, give him an ordinary romantic leading role, and he can underwhelm. Pinkham’s turn in Holiday Inn receded into the scenery. Fortunately, the casting gods are back in charge to bestow Pinkham with the very troubled/conflicted/angst-ridden title role in John Logan and Tom Kitt’s new musical, Superhero."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "There are lots of reasons to root for Superhero, not least because entirely original musicals like this one are going the way of the polar bear in a theatrical landscape of revivals, jukebox assemblies and regurgitated movies. It has a team of skilled craftsmen in director Jason Moore, writer John Logan and composer-lyricist Tom Kitt, backed by sharp design elements and appealing performances from a cast led by talented pros Kate Baldwin and Bryce Pinkham, with young newcomer Kyle McArthur. But this earnest fusion of damaged-family melodrama with comic-book fantasy only occasionally rises above the level of pleasant or cute."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "A 15-year-old misfit, sitting alone on the fire escape and drawing cartoon dreams of a larger-than-life hero to rescue him from the perils of being a teenager. Haven’t we seen this one before? You betcha — and it doesn’t get any more lovable with repetition."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety