Nora Dominick ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Pulling off any type of live television production is extremely difficult. Saturday Night Live has taken years and years to perfect the impeccable rhythmic dance that the actors and crew accomplish every Saturday night. With SNL being the basis of live television today, NBC kicked it up a notch and has now brought back the three-hour live musical extravaganza that once dominated the network’s airwaves.
Last year, NBC presented us with The Sound of Music Live! Starring Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer, six time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald and Tony Award winners Laura Benanti and Christian Borle. Although the presentation was a spectacle in its own right and drew in close to 18 million viewers, there were flaws. Underwood, although a talented country artist, was met with harsh criticism for her portrayal of Maria. The production received mixed reviews and the veteran Broadway actors; McDonald, Benanti and Borle stole the telecast. So this year, when NBC decided to take on the classic Peter Pan, the casting process was much different and they learned from their previous mistakes.
Adapted from J.M Barrie’s 1904 play, Peter Pan tells the story of Peter (Allison Williams), a young adventurous boy who lives on Neverland with his band of Lost Boys. He flies with fairies, battles evil pirates and swims with mermaids. One day, Peter visits London and whisks away The Darling children, Wendy (Taylor Louderman), John (Jake Lucas) and Michael (John Allyn), to this exotic land where they learn to never grow up. Peter Pan Live! was based on the 1954 original Broadway production starring Mary Martin as Peter and Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. The original production earned Tony Awards for both stars. Since then, Peter Pan has taken on many forms. It was an NBC live telecast (similar to this one) in 1955, 1956 and 1960 with the original Broadway stars reprising their roles. It also danced to the big screen in Robin William’s 1991 film Hook and of course the Disney Animated movie, Peter Pan. It’s safe to say everyone is acquainted with the boy who never grew up.
Allison Williams as Peter Pan turned out to be the perfect fit. Mostly known for her work as Marnie on the HBO series Girls, Williams soared to new heights in the title role. She managed to convincingly pull off a British accent and remained confident throughout the entire performance. Nothing went crazy; she didn’t fly into any walls. Williams flying skills were flawless as she flipped, fluttered and floated her way around Neverland. Her singing skills held their own as she sang classics like “Never Never Land” and “I Won’t Grow Up.” With any live production there is always bound to be something that goes wrong that critics will pick at with a fine-toothed comb – however, during Peter Pan Live! it wasn’t Williams.
Christopher Walken seemed like an odd choice for Captain Hook at first, but he held his own during the telecast. For being over 70 years old, Walken hung in with the best of them. Besides mumbling most of his lines, his half dancing, and talk singing, he managed to play a convincing Captain Hook. His singing voice tended to get lost amongst the Broadway voices though. Although he did not compare to Ritchard’s original portrayal, he brought his own version of charisma and attitude to the role. In every aspect, he was Christopher Walken playing Captain Hook, which worked for the production.
Other stars of the live event turned out to be newcomers or Broadway vets. Most of the gang of Lost Boys originated from none other than the high energy Broadway musical Newsies. These boys are notorious for their incredible dance moves and their charm factor. Their choreography in “I Won’t Grow Up” and “True Blood Brothers” was perfectly executed and helped add a Broadway aspect to the televised event. Christian Borle as Mr. Darling/Smee also did a nice job. Although his acting as Mr. Darling was a little less impressive, he made up for it with his silly and creative portrayal of Smee.
Newcomer, Alanna Saunders as Tiger Lily helped revamp a previously stereotypical character. Being Cherokee herself, Saunders helped usher in a new era of Tiger Lily by having most of the offensive stereotypes once associated with the role vanish. The once offensive song “Ugg-a-Wugg” was re-written for the telecast and renamed “True Blood Brothers.” Saunders and Williams flourished in the musical number and helped elevate Tiger Lily and her companions to a more equal standing. Tiger Lily’s band of brothers that followed her around were also super impressive and allowed the Native American’s in the story to stand alone and be equal to Peter Pan and the Lost Boys.
All the voices were pretty good during Peter Pan Live! However, it was 5 time Tony Award nominee Kelli O’Hara that stole the event. Her impeccable soprano voice triumphed in the opening number “Tender Shepherd” where Mrs. Darling tucks Wendy, John and Michael into bed. Her singing made everyone forget they weren’t watching a live Broadway musical. Similar to McDonald’s portrayal of the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music Live, O’Hara’s Broadway background allowed her to shine during her moments on screen. Although there were few, O’Hara made her mark in the telecast and left viewers wishing she were utilized more.
The overall scope of Peter Pan Live! was extremely impressive. The amount of flying and technological aspects that had to be put into place was spectacular. The sets were also beautiful. Although Neverland looked like something out of the board game “Candy Land”, the amount of work that went into the production makes up for this factor. Another issue with the telecast? The length. After about an hour into Peter Pan Live!, the production began to drag. Yes, the singing and overall production value of it was spectacular but, once Peter, Wendy, John and Michael arrived in Neverland the amount of commercial breaks tended to drag the telecast. Everyone was waiting for the big confrontation with Captain Hook and Pan, which didn’t come until two and half hours in. Executive producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan and director Rob Ashford put together an inspiring piece of live television, even if it felt like we were in a cheap board game from our childhoods.
So, why did Peter Pan Live! seem to work so much better than The Sound of Music Live? Well, The Sound of Music will always be associated with the stellar performances of Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer. Even though the movie is slightly different than the stage production, Julie Andrews running around singing “the hills are alive with the sound of music,” will forever be engrained in audience’s memories. Underwood had a lot to live up to and no one will ever come close to Andrews. Peter Pan on the other hand has undergone countless adaptations. Although the original Peter portrayed by Martin was astonishing, there is not one Peter Pan Ms. Williams had to live up to. She didn’t have to step into anyone else’s shoes. She was able to bring her own charisma and charm to the character.
Overall, Peter Pan Live! was a wonderful tribute to the beloved stage musical. It allowed a new generation of children to travel back to Neverland with Peter and the gang. The real important portion of this telecast was that NBC was allowed to take time out of their primetime programming and dedicate it to a Broadway stage production. Whatever you thought of Peter Pan Live! just remember that for 3 full hours, viewers who may not be able to ever experience the magic of Broadway were able to sit in front of their television and be invited into the world of live theatre.