Bob Holiday, Broadway's First Superman
Bob Holiday's Publicity Portfolio

It's a Bird! It's a Plane!
It's Patricia Marand and Bob Holiday
Together Again!

Bob Holiday, Kelly Holiday and Patricia Marand

Dateline March 14, 2007 (Revised April 11, 2019) — By Brian McKernan

On March 12, 2007—almost 41 years to the day that “It's a Bird…It's a Plane…It's Superman” premiered on Broadway—the original Lois and Clark from the 1966 production—Patricia Marand and Bob Holiday—reunited to attend a modest revival production by the Opening Doors Theatre Company (ODTC) at the Duplex Cabaret Theatre in Greenwich Village.

Now it’s more than 12 years later. Patricia Marand and Bob Holiday have since passed on, and Manhattan has seen at least two more revivals of this show (which The New York Times in 1966 called "the best musical of the season"), with even more separately produced performances in locales as diverse as London’s West End, Dallas, Germany, and Australia.

I attended the ODTC’s 2007 production and sat with Bob and “Patty” (as Bob liked to call Ms. Marand), as well as Bob’s lovely daughter Kelly and Ms. Marand's gracious husband, the late Irv Salem. I had first met Bob in 2003 when I co-produced Holiday in Metropolis, a video documentary of his appearance at the annual Superman Celebration in Southern Illinois.

We were crunched around a tiny cocktail table in the ODTC’s tiny theatre that probably fit only about 100 people, actors included. There, in front of us was a tiny stage but on it were some giant young talents, which is not unusual to find in New York City’s Off-Off Broadway theatres, just a short subway ride from the real thing on The Great White Way.

What the production lacked in size, however, was made up for by the skill and enthusiasm of its cast, well-directed by Casey Burden and choreographer Rick Delancy. Production values were Spartan, but energetic performances and the clever, engaging original 1966 book and musical score made this lighthearted comedy abundant with laughs. Superman (played by the mesmerizingly confident Rob Ventre) didn't fly onstage as Bob did in 1966. Ventre’s costume was a Superman T-shirt and a pair of Clark Kent's dress slacks. Metropolis, meanwhile, consisted of a small, black canvas backing. Musical accompaniment was a single piano adroitly played by Musical Director Steven Bednasz.

But who misses elaborate sets and staging when you're having a rollicking, fast, funny, and totally engaging good time? All of it was provided by the comic brilliance and singing voice of Sarah Lilley (Lois Lane), the lovably evil crooning of Andrew Cao (Daily Planet gossip columnist Max Mencken), the vampy delights of Suzanne Adams (Mencken's secretary Sydney), and the utterly hilarious Jason B. Schmidt (as the evil and hirsute villain Dr. Abner Sedgwick).

Bob Holiday and Rob Ventre

Sitting with Bob, Patty, and company, it was great to occasionally steal sidelong glances at them during the show and see the smiles that this performance of “It's a Bird...” brought to their faces. Their presence at the revival was a delight to the actors and the audience alike. At one point during the show Bob leaned over to me and whispered "You should have seen it on Broadway; Jack Cassidy was fantastic as Max Mencken!" Bob wasn’t alone in that assessment; Cassidy, Patricia Marand, and the original production’s Dr. Abner Sedgwick (Michael O’Sullivan) were all nominated for Tony Awards. Oh, to have been in the audience for the original show on the full-size Alvin Theatre stage with million-dollar production values and Flying by Foy. And me, 12 years old in 1966 and living just a few subway stops away up in The Bronx. Silly kid, I should have asked Mom to take me. She loved the theatre and would have said yes.

“It's a Bird...” was one of the ODTC's "Closing Notice" concerts, which the program booklet described as "Loving tributes to 'flop' shows or musicals that had criminally short runs yet fun scores of merit." With songs by Broadway supermen Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie, Applause) and a book by the late David Newman and Robert Benton (whose credits include many movies and co-authorship of three of the Christopher Reeve Superman films), it's still hard to believe that the original 1966 “It's a Bird...” didn't have as long a run onstage as Strouse's other comic-strip-inspired musical, Annie. Having been a 12-year-old Batfan when "It's a Bird..." premiered 41 years ago, however, I can attest to what Newman once said about “It's a Bird...” lasting only 129 performances: "It was a victim of 'cape lash,' " he asserted. Batman had premiered on ABC in January of 1966, and the nation was bat-crazy. People had their fill of caped crusaders on TV two nights a week, and Broadway audiences assumed “It's a Bird...” was more of the same … which it wasn't.

When intermission arrived at ODTC our table was mobbed by autograph-seekers exhibiting the brand of respectful enthusiasm that only New York theatre-lovers possess. They definitely were thrilled to be saying hello to the original Lois and Clark of Broadway.

Bob Holiday, Patricia Marand and Rob Ventre

I realize now what a unique privilege it was to have witnessed Bob and Patty laughing away at this witty show. At least one joke totally baffled me, however. In the penultimate scene Lois is tied up by Asian villains in an abandoned electricity-generating plant. Her character cries, “Help! I’m a prisoner in a Chinese powerhouse!” Bob and Patty guffawed at that line, which made no sense to me. I later Googled it and discovered it was a twist on a 1964 Alan King book titled “HELP! I’M A PRISONER IN A CHINESE BAKERY!” In other words, an unexpected message on a fortune cookie.

After the show I managed to take the photo seen here of Bob, Patty, and the show’s own Superman, Mr. Ventre. I realized now that it’s probably the last photo ever taken of the 1966 Lois and Clark together. Patty passed away on November 27, 2008. [Editor's note: This is certainly the last photo taken of Bob and Patty together. While Bob kept in touch with Patty, he never again saw her in person.]

Bob Holiday and Edward Watts

I’d see Bob two more times after the ODTC performance: at another Manhattan revival of “It’s a Bird…” four months later by The York Theatre Company in St. Peter’s Church (in the Citigroup Center), and one more on March 23, 2013 as part of the Encores! revival series at New York’s City Center theatre. Bob even participated in a special “post-performance dialogue” there after the show. I took my last photo of Bob standing alongside the show’s Superman, Edward Watts. Bob Holiday, the original Superman of Broadway (and the live-action Superman who filled the gap between the 1950’s Adventures of Superman TV star George Reeves and the 1970’s and 1980’s movie Superman Christopher Reeve), died on January 27, 2017.

Written by Brian McKernan, © 2019
Photos © Brian McKernan
and courtesy the Estate of Bob Holiday
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