Time to Remember
The NBC broadcast of "Peter Pan Live" started out with such promise and even ended on a lovely note, but all in all, the production just didn't fly. It was hilarious reading the posts from some of my theatre brethren on Facebook during the show. The disdain was great, and many did not make it to the end. I made it to the finish, and here are a few of my thoughts.
The first bright spots were Christian Borle (Mr. Darling) and Kelli O'Hara (Mrs. Darling) - broadway vets who make this kind of thing easy. Their mere presence made me think this production had a chance to shine, and I think I glossed over some lackluster acting from the children in that first scene because of them. But alas, their scene was brief, and their magic did not wipe off on the younger actors, who were cute (Wendy giving it all she had, but still left me wanting )but not much else.
With the arrival of Allison Williams, initially I was delighted. When I think back to what I was delighted about, mostly it was "she doesn't seem girly at all!" and "She can really sing!" ending with "Yeah, she can act like a boy!" but really, that was the extent of her good parts. Yes, she can act. She was totally different from her character on "Girls"- totally different in that she was playing a boy. Just not a very exciting boy. Her Peter Pan lacked a youthfulness, an energy, an "IT" factor to wow , entice, and convince you to go to Neverland. Her line readings were very straightforward and honest, but kind of boring as well. I have read that she is a classically trained singer, and she definitely has the pipes to prove it, but it takes more than that kind of training to make a show tune come to life. It's not just the SOUND, it's the entire PERFORMANCE.
On the technical side, the animated Tinkerbell puppet didn't really work because no one really knew where to look, which made it harder to believe in her, and the flying scene looked kind of awkward and off- when they all fly out the window, they just kind of swung back and forth haphazardly until joining hands. The wires were visible, which on stage is forgivable because it's still pretty cool that they are swinging across the stage but by modern television standards it just looks like a mistake. (I had a friend watching with his kid who told him "Daddy, she is attached to a stringy thing.")
The production design for Neverland was bright and colorful if in a slightly Wonka-ish way (Willy Wonka ,that is) but the bright television studio lights did them no justice.
Then , the moment we'd all been waiting for, here comes Christopher Walken as Captain Hook!!!(Cue applause) . This was obviously the stunt casting that NBC knew was going to reel in the viewers. Walken is an interesting iconic actor, quirky, former song and dance man, what could go wrong? WELL...firstly, what was up with that makeup?!?!? He looked more Fu Manchu than pirate (his red costume did nothing to help that .though the color is traditional Hook it lended itself more to the overall asian feel) Secondly, where was he looking??? It seemed he didn't really know what camera to play to. Thirdly, he seemed like he was still marking his performance and not giving it his all (as if he didn't realize that this wasn't just another rehearsal!). Now, granted, he is in his 70's, so I will cut him slack. Fourthly, his...pacing...was...well, come on, what did you expect. It's Christopher Walken for crying out loud. He didn't do anything that he doesn't usually do. He is practically a brand, and when he is cast in the right role- pure brilliance. He did liven up quite s bit for his song and dance numbers (of which I read was the reason he did the musical.)
The rest of the cast was solid in their singing and dancing - I speak of the lost boys, the pirates, and the Indians (that's what they are called in the show, I know they are Native Americans) but mostly I would say that they were interchangeable- the color coded costuming (Pirates RED , Lost Boys GREEN, Indians NAKED-ish with wrinkly flesh colored tights) took away any individuality from the performers(even Borle as Smee blended into the crowd). Funnily enough, I read that they tried to be racially sensitive in the Native American scenes, cutting out songs and such , but I wonder what the message was that costumer Catherine Zuba was trying to convey by putting Tiger Lilly in a reasonable facsimile of Cher in a Bob Mackie Knockoff. Half Breed?
All in all, I commend the cast and crew and even NBC for attempting to bring Broadway and musical theatre to the masses. I love the fact that they are doing it, and that people are tuning in! But there are kinks to work out. One thing I thought was missing is the reaction from a live audience, because musical theatre is written with those kind of rhythms that allow for applause and laughter, which also lends to the style of acting that these shows require. And the sound of an audience just feeds the performance. It is the true kind of magic that only happens on the stage, almost if not altogether impossible to replicate. So why not tape a live show? I have seen many that actually translated to tape brilliantly (one of my favorites- Into the Woods. Fell in love with the taped version with Bernadette Peters!) Because unfortunately, under the harsh glare of studio lights and stillness of the soundstage, when you don't hear the laughter or the applause, it just sounds...sad.
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