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'Superhero' review: Musical's powers aren't fully developed

Kyle McArthur plays a shy, awkward teen who

Kyle McArthur plays a shy, awkward teen who may be more heroic than he seems in "Superhero." Credit: Joan Marcus

WHAT "Superhero"

WHEN | WHERE Through March 31, Tony Kiser Theater, 305 W. 43rd St.

INFO From $89; 212-246-4422, 2st.com

BOTTOM LINE A promising but not fully developed musical from Tom Kitt explores the superhero in all of us. 

Not every Superhero needs to spin webs or stop bullets. Sometimes it is enough to just want to help someone who’s hurting.

In "Superhero," the promising though not fully developed new show with music and lyrics by Tom Kitt ("Next to Normal") and book by John Logan ("Red") at Second Stage's Tony Kiser Theater, you’re never absolutely sure who the superhero is supposed to be. Which, of course, is exactly the point.

Jim (Bryce Pinkham), the odd guy in apartment 4-B, is the leading candidate for the title, what with his frequent disappearing acts and his problems with basic communication. Or perhaps it’s Simon (Kyle McArthur), the anxious, withdrawn kid (oh yes, there's another one) who lives downstairs and has escaped into the superhero comic books he's taken to drawing after the death of his father in an accident he refuses to talk about. 

But my money is on Simon's mom, Charlotte (Kate Baldwin), as she tries to hold her shattered world together, struggling to finish the book that will help her hold on to her job as a professor while desperately seeking some sort of connection with her son.

These three lost souls come together as neighbors do, but it's never quite clear where all this is taking us. It quickly becomes clear that the romantic attraction between Charlotte and Jim is going nowhere, and the friendship between Simon and Jim is based on some misguided beliefs. The music, while not especially memorable, has its moments. "Laundry for Two" is a poignant description of a mom coming to terms with her grief, and "It's Not Like in the Movies" is an angry declaration that things aren't always as they seem. But the dialogue in "The Man in 4-B" would have been more effective had it not been put to music.

The show, directed by Jason Moore, lives on strong performances. Baldwin is painfully raw in her portrayal of a mom in mourning, Pinkham is appropriately understated in a role that demands intense introspection, and as the teen in turmoil, McArthur, in a professional debut that suggests tremendous potential, is tender and vulnerable. There’s also some truly inventive staging, as Beowulf Boritt's simple but effective set gets taken over by Tal Yarden's projections that turn the whole place into a giant comic book.

So who is the real superhero? Before the show's rather abrupt ending, Charlotte encourages her son to remember that “Superheroes can be folks who keep their feet on the ground.” In the end, it seems, the answer is everyone.

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