I really wanted to like the NBC "PETER PAN" that was on TV last Thursday night. I really did. Like many people my age – baby-boomers – I grew up on the Mary Martin "PETER PAN" that was broadcast in 1956 (black-and-white) and 1960 (color). What's more, I'm a lifelong fan of Broadway musicals and anything theatrical, so I wanted the "PETER PAN" to be good, just to promote live theatre, Broadway musicals, and the arts in general.
(Not to mention the fact that I want to try to be positive in this blog. Why would I want to write about things that I have dark feelings and negative thoughts about? In order to "tell the truth?" I save that for my fiction. Here, I'll be happy with 87% truth.)
So I Tivoed "PETER PAN," in order to watch it after a Lakers game. I watch almost nothing "live" these days; I Tivo everything. That way, I can play things back when and how I want to, taking out the commercials, fast-forwarding, pausing, etc. And I watched the "PETER PAN" after the Lakers were crushed. Or as much of it as I could.
This is where it gets hard to be positive. Kelli O'Hara was wonderful, and the show was much better than "THE SOUND OF MUSIC" last year. Do I really want to dwell on what was missing? Any sense of fun? Any swagger? Any bravado?
Here are a couple of YouTube selections from the Mary Martin "PETER PAN" to show what I mean.
"I'm Flying" -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AilIsO6EG4c
Hook's Waltz -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gims9O9oi8s
"I Won't Grow Up" -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5b8wH1heQU
It's silly to compare Allison Williams to Mary Martin. Allison Williams is a novice, and Mary Martin was one of the most accomplished, beloved stars in Broadway history. I saw Mary Martin in "I DO, I DO," the two-character musical about a long marriage with the great Robert Preston. Martin was fifty-three at the time and just radiated stardom. She was completely open and happy and confident onstage, just the opposite of the tight, cautious Miss Williams.
I really don't know what Christopher Walken was doing. Was he underplaying, so that he could show that he was really "too cool" for the show, somehow above it? Or did he realize that he couldn't compete with Cyril Ritchard's immortal Hook performance – in any way – so that he kind of gave up and went weak? I don't know; it's not worth dwelling on. Walken is an old Broadway hand, an old chorus boy. In younger days, I saw him in "THE LION IN WINTER" and a few plays at Lincoln Center. (I also saw Cyril Ritchard in "THE ROAR OF THE GREASEPAINT, THE SMELL OF THE CROWD." A ramshackle musical, filled with great moments and songs. He was another audience charmer.) I was really hoping for more from him. He showed some panache in "PENNIES FROM HEAVEN," the Steve Martin Depression (in more ways than one) musical, but that was a long time ago.
I really did want to like it. After all, according to family legend, I'm named after Peter Pan! I won't even mention the name Jerome Robbins, one of the authentic Broadway geniuses. I want them to keep doing these musicals "live" on TV. This one was better than "THE SOUND OF MUSIC" last year. They're going in the right direction. I applaud NBC for taking a risk. The ratings were off, but that's because Allison Williams isn't nearly as big a star as Carrie Underwood. If NBC had gotten Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift to play Peter, the ratings would have been through-the-roof again.
I hear that Fox is planning a live "GREASE" and NBC has already announced "THE MUSIC MAN" for next year. Paging Hugh Jackman.
More on theatre and musicals later. Sondheim, etc.