Review by Kathleen Campion
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), 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 the Second Stage, and Dear Evan Hanson (six Tony awards) still on Broadway — 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.
Superhero — Book by John Logan; music and lyrics by Tom Kitt; directed by Jason Moore.
WITH: Julia Abueva (Rachel), Kate Baldwin (Charlotte), Jake Levy (Dwayne), Kyle McArthur (Simon), Bryce Pinkham (Jim), Salena Qureshi (Vee), Thom Sesma (Vic)
Designed by Beowulf Boritt; costumes by Sarah Laux; lighting design by Jen Schriever; sound by Brian Ronan; projection by Tal Yarden; illusion design by Chris Fisher. Musical director is Bryan Perri.
Presented by Second Stage at the Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 43rd Street, Manhattan
Runtime: 2 hrs. and 10 min with one intermission.