Theatre Review: It's a bird... It's a plane... It's Superman - Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub ✭✭✭✭

All Star Productions
It's a bird... It's a plane... It's Superman
Craig Berry and Michelle LaFortune

Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub

Review by Duncan Brown

Friday 7th March 2014: I was intrigued to see the little-known Superman Musical after being very impressed with both the production and the venue at Howard Goodall's Days of Hope last year. It is so refreshing to feel welcomed by a venue who value having a theatre unlike visits to The Landor in Clapham or The White Bear in Kennington recently, where at best the theatre and it's patrons seem treated as a mild irritation.

It seems incredible that in spite of being written in 1966 by Charles Strouse (of Bye Bye Birdie and Annie fame) this is actually it's UK premiere. I'm pleased to report it was worth the wait!

One reason often given for its lack of success, particularly in the US, is the inherent racism in the characters of the Chinese Ling family, having to speak in pidgin English and having pantoesque musical accompaniment. I think that, generally here in the UK, and this reviewer certainly, we are slightly less squeamish; in the words of Avenue Q, "everyone's a little bit racist"! It might also be asked why they had non Chinese actors playing these roles but as they have to sing, dance, act multiple roles and perform very impressive gymnastics (Alexander Bartles is particularly strong although all are excellent) in a Fringe production I think this can also be excused. Joseph Murray as Father Ling managed to walk this tightrope successfully.

These concerns aside, it really is a fun and engaging show.

The production is confidently directed (and designed, using bold primary colours and deliberately low tech props that nevertheless are extremely effective, capturing the spirit of the piece) by American Randy Smartnick who pitches it at just the right heightened comic book level, pastiching affectionately the genre and extracting maximum laughs from the script and his very talented company. I do think it would have been a disaster if it had been played straight.

Craig Berry is a suitably imposing Superman, filling out his costume impressively and possessing a rich old-fashioned baritone voice which is a joy to listen to.

The female leads of both Michelle LaFortune's Lois and the Sydney of Sarah Kennedy are both equally strong with great voices and comedy timing.

However the revelation of the evening is surely Matthew Ibbotson's Sedgewick as Superman's nemesis. He brings a touch of comic genius to the role revelling in every moment without upstaging his fellow cast members, a very fine line to tread. On top of that he also has a fine singing voice and is definitely a name to watch.

A mention must also be made of the excellent five piece band led by MD Aaron Clingham, providing a full sounding score, very much rooted in the 1960s, but being none the weaker for that and for once not overpowering the singers (being placed behind the set) as is so often the case on the fringe.

The fun, though not overly memorable, score is stylishly complemented by Kate McPhee's energetic and perfectly executed choreography by the 14 strong company.

All in all it was an evening full of laughs and definitely worth the trek out to Walthamstow, this production, it really does fly!

4 stars ✭✭✭✭

It's a bird... It's a plane... It's Superman plays at Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub until 22 March