I love new works. Being the first one to experience a show is an occurrence that I can't get enough of. Especially when that show is at Second Stage Theater. This theater has produced some of Broadway's greatest hits like Dear Evan Hansen and Next To Normal. Because of all this I was particularly excited to see Superhero, a new musical at Second Stage.
This review is about a preview on Feb 2, the show opens on Feb 28.
Warning, mild spoilers ahead.
Superhero follows Simon, played by Kyle McArthur, and his mother Charlotte, played by Kate Baldwin. Simon is fascinated by superheroes and draws his own graphic novel about his favorite hero, the Mariner. Shortly after the opening number, we learn that Simon's father died in some sort of accident and the pair of them have been trying to move on for two years.
At first I jumped to some conclusions and thought this was another Dear Evan Hansen knock-off. The single parent narrative is tired, and is often a lazy plot device to keep the parent's out of the kids life. This was a poor assumption on my part. As the show develops, it quickly becomes apparent that Charlotte is just as important to the story as Simon.
Charlotte has been struggling to maintain her career as a professor of poetry and while managing life as a single mother. Her son is distant, but emotional. The dynamic between the two of them was perfect. Simon needs his mother, but like any other teenager, wants to be left alone. Charlotte needs Simon, but he's not mature enough to handle the situation.
With all this going on, the story also brings in a real superhero, Jim, played by Bryce Pinkham. Jim lives in unit 4B of their building and Simon quickly discovers Jim's secret. Simon encourages his mother to date Jim and he is predictably unavailable while keeping his superhero identity a secret.
Simon also has his own love interest, Vee, played by Salena Qureshi. I really loved this role and wish she had more stage time. In one of the earlier numbers, Simon is lamenting that he's not brave enough to save the girl. While he's whining, Vee stands up for herself and tells the scene's antagonist off. At the end, when Simon confesses his feelings, Vee gently rejects him.
I really loved this because it was so much more realistic than the tired narrative where the guy gets the girl. Vee helps Simon develop into a more mature character, but she's not a prize to be won; I really appreciate that the writers made that clear.
The show ends with Simon and Charlotte together on the roof. Charlotte has broken up with Jim, and Simon finally opens up to her in a cathartic outburst. Charlotte is there to comfort him as the show ends. On the train ride home, I realized that Charlotte is the titular Superhero, not Jim.
The Stage, Set, and Effects
Alongside a beautiful tale was a fantastic set by scenic designer Beowulf Boritt. The raised levels across the stage added a layer of depth to the story. It conveyed a sense of time passing as characters moved from one layer to another.
The sheer number of scenes they created with such a simple set was impressive. The roof, the office, the apartment, and the cafeteria were all real enough to suspend disbelief. I particularly loved the city background and the opening and closing of that final layer in the back.
The effects by illusion designer Chris Fisher were impressive on their own. He created a series of comic book like projects that perfectly added to the story happening on stage. My favorite part of this was when he had cartoon versions of the things happening in front of us projected behind the actors.
For a show with such a strong cast, story, and staging the music was really lackluster.
I walked away from the theater with a powerful story and a lot of feelings, but there wasn't a single memorable number. I remember something about laundry, and some bits that were emotional, but not particularly memorable.
This is really unfortunate, because the staying power of most musicals resides with the soundtrack. The cast recording is usually the most accessible part of the show, and I wish this one had something stronger.
I have a hunch this show will still find its way to Broadway. The cast were really top notch and more often than not Second Stage shows make it to Broadway. As this was an early preview, I'd be interested in seeing what they do to improve it for a bigger stage.
Cast: 8/10 - Really top-notch acting, special shoutout to Kate Baldwin as Charlotte.
Plot: 8/10 - The story was surprisingly original and powerful to watch.
Scenic Design: 7/10 - This was definitely one of the cooler stages I've seen. However, it wasn't revolutionary.
Music: 4/10 - The best that can be said is that the music told the story effectively, but none of the tracks were memorable and I'd be surprised if they stood alone without the staging.
Overall: 7/10 - Very good show, especially for such an early preview. I look forward to see how it develops over time.
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