Forever young, new Peter Pan is live and aloft
Updated: 2014-12-04 07:13
By Frazier Moore in New York(China Daily USA)
The boy who refused to grow up: It sounds like men today in this youth-obsessed culture. But nearly a century before his name found its way into pop psychology, Peter Pan was born as the high-flying hero of a play by Scottish writer James M Barrie.
Many adaptations later, 1954's Broadway musical version of Peter Pan came to TV in a live NBC telecast in 1955, then was re-staged a year later with Mary Martin yet again in the title role.
Now NBC is recapturing its youth for a revival of Peter Pan, broadcast live in the US this week and starring Allison Williams (Girls) as Peter, the cocky young champion of Neverland, and Christopher Walken as the deliciously evil pirate, Captain Hook. The cast also includes Christian Borle, Kelli O'Hara and Minnie Driver as the narrator.
Officially titled Peter Pan Live!, this three-hour event is a follow-up to last year's live The Sound of Music, which drew an astonishing 18.6 million viewers.
Why Peter Pan this go-around?
"It's a classic, a really great musical, that has its DNA in live television," says Neil Meron, who with his partner, Craig Zadan, are back as executive producers. "To follow The Sound of Music and create some sort of beachhead for a holiday tradition, you look for titles that can fit into that little box," he says, pointing to a nearby TV, "and Peter Pan fits very snugly."
More than snug, Peter Pan will be bursting wide open with more subtext to the characters and narrative than its Broadway forebear, Meron says. Its glorious score (including I Won't Grow Up, I'm Flying and Never Never Land) is supplemented with additional tunes by the team of Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, including a song dropped from the original Peter Pan before it reached Broadway.
"It's much bigger and much more challenging than The Sound of Music last year," says Zadan. "A lot more musical numbers, a lot more dancing, plus the sword fights and flying. And a live dog." With no do-overs allowed.
But maybe the biggest difference between this year and last: Everyone knew and cherished the 1965 Julie Andrews-starring film of The Sound of Music, which made tampering with it a dicey proposition.
"We had a gigantic shadow over us last year," says Meron. "This year, the shadow isn't as big." Then he added with a smile, "Peter Pan DOES find his shadow in the show."
That's a fact. Early in the action, we see Wendy with a needle and thread reattach Peter's shadow, which he had left behind on a previous visit to the Darling children's nursery. Then he teaches Wendy and her two little brothers how to fly. Then off they fly to Neverland!
NBC is hoping viewers take the trip too.
The social media buzz had already started on Tuesday. Some of it was fueled by a "leaked" tape of Tony winner Jane Krakowski "auditioning" for Peter in a manner not appropriate for children in a parody posted on funnyordie.com.
NBC also released a mashup video of the show's cast, fans, singer/songwriter Alex G and DJ Tay James singing a decidedly pop version of I Won't Grow Up.
On Thursday night, the Twittersphere could be jammed with moment-to-moment scrutiny of the show - at least, if there's any lesson to be drawn from last year's live telecast, when the Web was alive with snark.
"People who have nice things to say keep it to themselves," says Zadan, "and the people who have nasty things to say don't, so they're out there tweeting away. But it creates massive audiences. Social media drove viewership last year with people following Twitter and saying, 'Oh! This I have to see for myself.'"
While Peter gets to fly, Captain Hook will have ample chance to demonstrate he's light on his feet.
Tap dancing in boots? "I asked them to make my clothing as light as possible," says Christopher Walken, "'cause there's a lot of stuff to wear: a wig and a hat and swords and muskets!"
A show business veteran at 71, Walken isn't typically thought of as a song-and-dance man, despite his memorable hoofing in Pennies From Heaven. But however much identified with serious drama (his breakout, Oscar-winning role was in the chilling 1978 film The Deer Hunter), he is anything but dismissive of musicals - neither as an actor nor as an audience member.
"Musicals are my favorite!" he declares. "If somebody says, 'I'm taking you to the theater,' I say, 'OK. Just make sure it's a musical.' I have deep respect for musicals - and for this one in particular."
"Peter Pan just appeals to something in a kid's imagination," says Allison Williams. "A boy flies through your window and everything's different forever.
A scene from NBC's musical Peter Pan Live! with Christopher Walken as Captain Hook (center). Associated Press
(China Daily USA 12/04/2014 page9)