views from the gods

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It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman
Leicester Square Theatre
13th February 2015


The ensemble

Photography © David Ovenden

Last year in a theatre pub in North London, a mild-mannered reporter (Craig Berry) turned into a caped hero in front of us, saving the day to a backdrop of slick choreography and perfectly delivered show tunes. Ah, good times. Well, theatre company All Star Productions have taken It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman from Ye Olde Rose and Crown to the more central Leicester Square Theatre in a move which will finally bring their work to a bigger crowd. About bloody time - if you've never heard of Aaron Clingham et al, it's your chance to put that right.

Nothing much has changed from 2014's run of Superman - the main characters are played by the same people and even though the audience capacity is greater, the space available on stage is about equal... kinda... so there are only a few tweaks to the set design and choreography. The delightfully ramshackle touches showing Big Blue in flight remain the same - but when you have a formula that works, only a stupid director would change this, and you couldn't accuse director Randy Smartnick of not knowing how to please an audience. He has the tone of the piece spot on - this Superman is thoroughly cheesy good-natured fun. To play this any other way just wouldn't work with David Newman and Robert Benton's book.

In what I suspect is a first for the company - certainly it's the first time I've seen - the performers are all miked up. They're used to a more intimate venue where this simply isn't necessary and they can project without the help of technology. Depending on how far back from the stage you are, you might not even notice the wires in this production - you can admittedly tell that the sound isn't totally natural, but the delivery is faultless, with every high note as it sound be and thankfully none of that interference or pitch issues you can get when you bring in microphones.

Michelle LaFortune's portrayal of our Daily Planet heroine has far more in common with that of Margot Kidder's than Terri Hatcher's; she presents to us the sort of Lois who is reasonably content to just swoon and be rescued. I think that's probably why I adore Sarah Kennedy's Sydney so much - out of all the female characters, she has the most sass. Ooh, Do You Love You captures this fiery attitude perfectly, as well as showcasing Kennedy's seriously impressive range. Equally catchy and beautifully delivered is Kennedy's other solo, You've Got Possibilities. For me, out of all the music and lyrics by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, these two songs are the most memorable, and that's largely due to Kennedy's flawless execution of them.

Matthew Ibbotson as Dr Abner Sedgwick

Photography © David Ovenden

Dr Abner Sedgwick (Mathew Ibbotson) is a wonderful baddie, a sort of evil Book of Mormon Elder Cunningham - more than a passing resemblance to Jared Gertner in look and action. Abner (ol' slaphead Lex still notably absent) is determined to take Superman down using words rather than weapons, with a little help from jealous Planet journalist Max Mencken (Paul Harwood) and out-of-work Chinese circus performers, the Ling family (Jonathan Chan, Christina Harris, William Mychael Lee and Jade Nelson). The humour here is a little of its era - this show premièred in the 60s after all - but it never goes far enough to offend.

As far as criticism goes, the video projection where Lois fills Sedgewick in on Superman's background is a little small for a venue of this size - Smartnick hasn't quite scaled up from the show's Walthamstow origins. But that's it. Honestly. Kate McPhee's choreography is tight, and although you can't see musical director Clingham and his orchestra, they're in the pit knocking out brilliant song after song. Absolute professionals, the lot of them.

All Star Productions are always excellent even on an off day, and when they give their all to a show, as they have done here - it's exceptional stuff. If you've seen this show before, it's just as funny and knowing as you'll remember, and it's certainly worth another watch - if you haven't, then that's an oversight you need to correct urgently. We've long championed All Star Productions and suggested that they are a fringe company with the talent and ambition to take on the West End, and as this limited transfer proves, they're more than capable of storming the West End. One of the easiest five-stars we've ever given out.

It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman opened on 10th February and runs until 21st February 2015 at the Leicester Square Theatre.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Northern, Piccadilly)

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