A 15-year-old misfit, sitting alone on the fire escape and drawing cartoon dreams of a larger-than-life hero to rescue him from the perils of being a teenager. Haven’t we seen this one before? You betcha — and it doesn’t get any more lovable with repetition.
The kid-on-the-fire-escape trope is such a cliché that it almost seems like a sendup. But no, book writer John Logan (“Red”) is quite serious when he positions young Simon (Kyle McArthur) on said fire escape. So is Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”), whose music and lyrics state the obvious from the first song, “The Adventures of the Amazing Sea-Mariner,” in which the teen sketches his fantasies of a manly superhero who rescues the heroine from a dastardly villain and saves the world from destruction. “He can heal the world’s suffering and pain,” goes one lyric. And at the end of the song, order is restored and “the world is safe.”
There’s nothing egregiously awful about the song and its sentiments, but there’s nothing original in them or the delivery. Only the orchestrations meet the composer’s hopeful directive of “a glorious fanfare” with “orchestral sweep.”
Kate Baldwin, a marvelous Irene Molloy in the revival of “Hello, Dolly!,” is the true hero here. As Simon’s mother Charlotte, she does a heroic job of making a pedestrian character seem like a loving, hurting human being. Her husband died two years ago and she’s still taking it on the chin, but is determined to be brave for Simon, who won’t even visit his father’s grave.
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In her solo, “What’s Happening to My Boy?,” Baldwin presents a particularly moving study of a mother struggling to repair the broken bond with her son. Here, the lyrics not only work but are all the stronger for being so simply stated and so deeply felt. “Where are you, boy? / What are you hiding? / When will you trust me with all that you’ve seen? / And when will we be a fam’ly once again? / When?”
Hint: By the end of the show, Simon will come to appreciate that his mother is one of the world’s true, if unacknowledged, superheroes.
Vic, the family’s grouchy landlord played by Thom Sesma, has a nice moment when he educates Simon in one of the basic tenets of comic-book narratives — that the superhero always dies and then comes back. Simon is so blown away that he writes a new, equally banal chapter for “The Adventures of the Amazing Sea-Mariner.” But honestly, what rock has this kid been living under, not to know the tropes of his own favorite genre?
The ever-dependable Bryce Pinkham (such a livewire in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”) opens a new and interesting narrative door as a mysterious neighbor. But the number that introduces and defines him, “The Man in 4-B,” falls flat.
And so it goes, one predictable moment after another. Superheroes are all very well and good, but it’s those nerds on the ground — the ones who write the words and the music — who do all the hard work for them. And if you can’t count on them, what good are superheroes?