Peter Pan the Undead

I only watched some of ‘Peter Pan Live” on NBC three or so nights ago, but I gave it a B minus. The “flying” was klutzy, but the actors on the whole did a good job. I understand the singing was not actually live, which seems like cheating and rather negates the fun of it being live at all.

The reviews, which have been mixed but mostly meh, missed a lot of points, though. One reviewer complained there was no live audience reacting to it, which killed it for her. I may be forgetting, but I don’t think the old Mary Martin television version had a live audience either. A couple of reviewers didn’t seem to realize Peter Pan Live (PPL) was a revival of a 1954 musical (Mary Martin? who?). One thought it was the 1904 or whatever play set to music, and another thought it was too “British” and that the actress who played Mrs. Darling, Wendy et al.’s mother, was “underused.”

There were also complaints about the three hour time, and one review said that the show had been padded with songs from other musicals. Was it? I watched parts of it and may have missed those. The frequent commercial breaks didn’t help, though.

Best tweet: “It needed more cowbell.”

A few things that bothered me —

I remember the Tiger Lily tribe as being children, or at least they were like children. I saw a video of the Mary Marin production (MMPP) not many years ago and remember the tribe riding 1950s-style kiddie scooters and maybe a couple of tricycles. In PPL, the Tiger Lily tribe were not just adult men; they were a muscular crew wearing skimpy costumes. Under most circumstances I’m happy to watch muscular dancing men in skimpy costumes, but in PPL I confess it made me a little uncomfortable. Good thing the feathered loin cloths stayed in place, although a wardrobe malfunction probably would have been a real “first” for NBC and boosted DVD-Blu Ray sales.

It’s traditional for the same actor to play Mr. George Darling, Wendy et al.’s father, and Captain Hook. There was an earlier musical version (music by Leonard Bernstein) that had Boris Karloff playing Papa/Hook. Cyril Ritchard was Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in MMPP, and I’ve sometimes wondered if Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow wasn’t at least partly inspired by Ritchard’s Hook. Or maybe I read that somewhere. Anyway, in PPL Christopher Walken played Captain Hook only. The same actor (Christian Borle) who played Mr. Smee was also Mr. Darling, although I didn’t realize that until I looked it up, because the two characters bore no resemblance to each other. Even so, that doesn’t send the same message.

The larger point is that in MMPP, Neverland was a land of children, and the villainous pirates were the only adults. The pirates, led by a captain who subliminally represented Father, an adult authority, were infuriated by or perhaps jealous of youth itself. In PPL, not only was the Tiger Lily tribe adult, but some of the Lost Boys clearly were old enough to shave, and had been for a few years. So the subtle psychological undertones were muddled.

I give PPL points for casting an actual dog actor, Bowdie, in the role of Nana. The crocodile was not played by an actual crocodile, but was a hoot and definitely underused. Christopher Walken underplayed Hook, which seemed a little out of step with the general rah-rah of the rest of the cast, but reviewers mostly loved him. I thought Allison Williams was fine as PP, although her singing voice is less robust than was Mary Martin’s. And, of course Allison Williams isn’t Mary Martin, who developed the musical and that role for herself and pretty much owns it even now.

Many of us children of the 1950s fondly remember being allowed to stay up to watch the black and white, not technically sophisticated Peter Pan with Martin and Ritchard. Whether children in the age of CGI graphics feel the same about PPL, who knows? The ending, with Wendy’s daughter flying off with Peter Pan, strikes me as a bit creepy now. And the strings were showing. Maybe the thing really is past its prime.

I understand ratings fell short of what was expected, but you don’t run a three-hour-long children’s program on a school night. Duh, NBC.

14 thoughts on “Peter Pan the Undead

  1. I almost live in fear of the same sort of remake of The Wizard of Oz. Heaven only knows what they will do to that one.

    • I find the Once Upon a Time series hysterically funny, which it isn’t supposed to be, but whatever. For a time they were running a storyline in which Peter Pan was the most evil being in the universe and was secretly behind some nefarious cult here in normal world. The shadows were like his evil henchmen. I don’t remember if PP was killed or just banished to another dimension, but he’s not in the series now. Tinkerbell was a former fairy who’d been stripped of her magic and sent to Neverland as punishment for screwing up, but she got her magic back and shows up occasionally. Captain Hook is a regular character who is in love with main character Emma, the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming who grew up in normal world as an orphan because her parents were under a spell. But Hook is being blackmailed by Rumpelstiltskin, who in fact is Peter Pan’s son sort of — it’s complicated — and who in the last episode got Hook to use a magic hat stolen from the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to capture all the fairies and their magic so that Rumpel can be freed of the dagger of the Dark One and be free to move around normal world without losing his power. The fairies had been in the town cafe trying to break a spell that was about to turn them all violent, but they failed. And they’re all stuck in town because the characters from Frozen showed up and one of them magically circled the town with an ice wall that nobody can break. Meanwhile the Evil Queen, who has been trying to reform, and Robin Hood are having an affair while Maid Marian has been frozen into a block of ice but is technically still alive because the Evil Queen, who really is trying to reform, is keeping Marian’s heart safe in a box in case they figure out how to thaw her out. It’s a hoot.

    • Bonnie — the mess is what makes it funny. The actors are playing their parts absolutely straight, and then you have these wonderful moments when, for example, you learn Bo Peep is running an extortion racket.

  2. Cyril Ritchard? What I’ve read is that Captain Jack Sparrow was based on Keith Richards. Could that be what you’re thinking of?

  3. maha,
    If I remember right, Depp’s Captain Sparrow was indeed based on Keith Richards – combined with, believe it or not: Pepe Le Pew!

  4. All of us of a certain age remember a few precious films that came to the little black and white box, seasonally, once a year. They shone and were gone. If you missed them, you just had to wait. The codger in me sees an important lesson in that. But, codgers often go on and on, outraged, delusional, about nonsense. But, I digress!! We digress a lot too.

    Mary Martin’s Peter Pan is for many of us, such a cherished childhood memory that it’s impossible to surpass. The world has changed. If a young person enjoys a film, they’ll get the DVD, watch it fifty times and then move on to the next cinemagraphic novelty/victim. It’s a different experience in some ways, as is painfully obvious to anyone who has survived the company of children.

    The comment and criticism regarding this new production has been interesting, valid and insightful. It’s brought back some memories.

    Aaron Copland’s remarked that he didn’t want his music to become “wallpaper,” as so much of popular culture has become. In so many public places there is the “insistent tomtom” of abrasively insipid music and 200 channels of vapid faces and chatter. It’s background radiation, a remnant of the Big Bang that birthed the electronic age. (Oh the humanity!)

    Somewhere inside our brains there is a little neuron box labelled, “Peter Pan.” That box and the amygdala conspire to create a unique tincture of emotion and memory. Once that box is full, it’s impossible to drain it and replace the contents. Even a timeless tale, if produced for a new audience, with a new marketing strategy is going to strike us a severely lacking in “cowbell.” But, when those whose “Peter Pan” box was previously unoccupied respond with a collective “meh.” That tells a story in itself.

    Sorry, I kind of “went off” towards Memory Lane.

  5. Yeah, the human-in-a-dog-suit Nana creeped me out. Otherwise I loved the Mary Martin production on teevee. I remember Cyril Ritchard being much scarier than Chris Walken, but then, I’m partly a grown-up now.

  6. I have never liked B-way shows done for TV as live performances because without all the fru fru of the televsion genre, they all fall flat. It’s funny that with all of the advance PR for the show and the behind the scene teasers, I never got the impression that they were making the show for children.

    It seemed to me to be an indulgence of a bunch of baby boomers yearning for Mary Martin’s “I won’t Grow Up…and if it means I must prepare, to shoulder burdens with a worried air. I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up. So there!”

    She had the athletic body of a young boy, and she was just so wonderfully perky. An entire generation of kids adored her.

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