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Friday Feature: “It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman”

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It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman

Look!  Up in the sky!  It’s the return of the Friday Feature!

When a mad scientist threatens Metropolis, it’s Superman to the rescue…right?  What if Superman wasn’t there?  What if the Man of Steel was otherwise occupied, being honored for his heroic deeds by a group of local kids at the very moment City Hall was being blown up?  Faced with his inability to save the day, would the Last Son of Krypton finally be pushed over the edge?

That’s not a story you’ll find in any DC Comic, however, now or then.  Rather, it’s the plot of the 1966 Broadway musical It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, currently being revived in New York for a limited run through March 24 as part of City Center’s Encores! series.  Years before Julie Taymor and Bono infamously brought Spider-Man to Broadway, producer-director Harold Prince, songwriters Charles Strouse and Lee Adams, and writers Robert Benton and David Newman saw the potential in bringing Clark Kent, Lois Lane and company to the musical stage.  The team devised a plot about a revenge-crazed scientist and expanded the traditional Clark Kent/Lois Lane/Superman love triangle by adding Jim Morgan, a paramour for Lois, and Sydney, a suitor for Clark.  Yet Superman folded after just 129 performances, despite three Tony-nominated performances and a deliciously enjoyable score that’s endured thanks to the Columbia Records cast album produced by the label’s chief, Goddard Lieberson.  With Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s timeless creation once again taking down the bad guys on a New York stage, the time has never been better to revisit this oft-forgotten part of the Superman mythos.

Are you able to leap tall buildings in a single bound?  Okay, just “jump” to keep reading! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

March 22, 2013 at 12:45

The Hills of Yesterday: Henry Mancini, Charles Strouse Offer “Molly Maguires” Scores

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A victim of the blacklist, director Martin Ritt (The Front, The Great White Hope and Norma Rae) felt passionately about using film to explore relevant social issues.  So it would have been no surprise that he was taken with the story of the Molly Maguires, the Irish-American coal miners who formed a secret society (some might say, of terrorists) to fight their oppressive employers in 19th century Pennsylvania.  Ritt enlisted an all-star cast including Sean Connery (still in his James Bond period) and Richard Harris for his 1970 Paramount Pictures epic.  Initially signed to write the score was Charles Strouse, the theatrical composer of Bye Bye Birdie, Golden Boy and It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane, It’s Superman (and later, Annie).  On the silver screen, Strouse had recently made a splash with Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde (1967) and William Friedkin’s The Night They Raided Minsky’s (1968), so he seemed a reasonable choice to score Ritt’s film.  Reportedly, though, Strouse’s score didn’t sit well with test audiences, so Ritt turned to a more experienced film composer who could also turn out superlative work in a short period of time: Henry Mancini.

Mancini had a busy slate in 1970, also scoring Vittorio De Sica’s Sunflower and Blake Edwards’ Darling Lili, but he, of course, rose to the occasion.  He chose to employ unusual instrumentation including pennywhistle, ocarina, button accordion and Irish harp to color his rich melodies.  He even supplied a stirring song, “The Hills of Yesterday,” well-known to Scott Walker’s fans.  In 1992, producer Bruce Kimmel was instrumental in bringing Mancini’s Molly Maguires score to compact disc, supported by an enthusiastic Mancini.  The Bay Cities edition of the score (BCD-2039) has been out-of-print for years, commanding high prices on the secondhand market.  Fast forward twenty years, and Kimmel now heads Kritzerland, a label dedicated to reissuing classic soundtracks and original cast albums.  How better to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the original Molly Maguires CD than with a reissue?  And what could make this reissue even more special the second time around?  How about the world premiere release of the rejected score by Charles Strouse as a supplement to the Mancini score?

Kritzerland’s The Molly Maguiresfeatures the entire Mancini score, as recorded by the great composer, in newly mixed sound from the original master tapes.  It’s easy to see the importance of music to the film, which begins with a wordless, nearly 15-minute sequence set to the score.  Several cues omitted from the original soundtrack album make their first appearance here, and five bonus tracks have been appended: three unique album versions and two film versions.  Charles Strouse’s complete score, opposite in style and approach to Mancini’s, is also making its premiere in any form.  Producer Bruce Kimmel explains in the liner notes, “Sometimes a score just isn’t working for the film, even though the music itself might be excellent. And that’s what happened here – Strouse’s score just wasn’t working with the film.”   The new Molly Maguires is limited to 1,500 copies and is due the second week of March, but pre-orders from the label usually arrive an average of four weeks early.

But’s that not all.  Kritzerland is also delivering a two-for-one soundtrack by Albert Glasser.  Invasion USA and Tormented! are just two of the hundred-plus B-movies scored by Glasser, and both feature appropriately wild scores.  (Just check out the artwork, below!)  Adventures of Superman buffs should note that Invasion USA boasts performances by both Lois Lanes, Noel Neill and Phyllis Coates!  Kritzerland has remastered these never-before-available soundtracks from the late composer’s personal tapes, and the sparkling result will be released alongside The Molly Maguires.  Hit the jump for Kritzerland’s full press release on the Glasser duo, plus track listings and pre-order links for both titles! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

January 30, 2012 at 10:50