FRYEAN MYTHOS: *comedy*CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTION: *psychological*
I imagine that this shot-on-video TV-special is the closest I'll ever get to seeing any version of the 1966 stage-play IT'S A BIRD IT'S A PLANE IT'S SUPERMAN. I used to come across a few mentions of the show in the comic books of the period, but even if I'd had the chance to see the play at the time, I probably would have avoided it, given that it appeared to making fun of superheroes, even more so than the contemporaneous BATMAN teleseries.
My verdict from watching this special-- which dropped several of the play's numbers for time-constraints-- is that it isn't so bad. A lot of the humor is lame, though it may not be any worse than that of the play. Whereas I consider BATMAN a sort of adventure/irony than a comedy, SUPERMAN THE MUSICAL is full of lots of dopey gags that put it in the domain of "corn" rather than "camp."
The plot's simple: Superman has been crusading against crime for years, engaging the love of Lois Lane and the envy of others (a smarmy Daily Planet columnist, a goofy mad scientist). The scientist conspires with the columnist and various thugs to eliminate the Man of Steel, first with a death-ray, then by undermining him with psychological tricks. In fact, the scenes in which the scientist tries to persuade Superman that he's a mass of neurotic fantasies-- that even his flying represented a "symbol of frustration"-- are about the only funny jokes in the teleplay.
Lesley Ann Warren excels in her portrait of the dithering girl reporter, while Loretta Swit belts out the play's best known number, "You've Got Possibilities." David Wilson is OK as the comic version of Superman, and since he gets to beat up a bunch of thugs at the story's end, this does rate as a "combative comedy."