As someone who had never seen the stage version of Peter Pan before, I was pleasantly surprised by the NBC broadcast last night. I really didn’t know what to expect from newbie Allison Williams and eccentric Christopher Walken but both brought their star power and adequate talent to a remarkably challenging project. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron produced a breath of fresh air on the rather dim horizon of modern television. I am so glad that they have attempted (somewhat successfully) to revive the tradition of live musicals from television’s early days.
As Allison Williams prepared to don Pan’s famous tights, she was already fighting against comparisons to previous Pan’s like Mary Martin or Cathy Rigby, as well as against her predecessor, last year’s The Sound of Music Star, Carrie Underwood. I think neither comparison is fair. Ms. Williams is not a stage performer so, unfortunately, she was not as broad as some may have wanted. However, had she been over the top, she would have been ripped apart for that too. Also, she is more of an actress (she was trained at Yale) than Ms. Underwood so that was refreshing as well. I’ll leave the comparisons there though since I try to leave my arbitrary tit for tat to my post show conversations over a couple drinks. Instead, I would like to focus on what Ms. Williams did right! She was spunky and convincingly boyish. Her voice was something to behold; I was definitely not expecting that out of her. Plus, she was adorably charming, something I find particularly difficult in that role. I applaud her for stepping out of her comfort zone and delivering quite well.
Mr. Walken brought his signature brand of slightly odd humor to the role of Captain Hook. Christopher Walken may be an eccentric presence, but he’s never really that surprising. I got exactly what I expected from his Hook. He was bawdy and sly. Many get caught up in subsequent portrayals of the legendary Captain James Hook but forget that he is written as an aging clown. When Cyril Ritchard originally portrayed Hook in 1954, he was in his late 50s and extremely over the top. The musical version of Hook should not be dark and brooding, he’s the comic relief for goodness sake. Mr. Walken did a superb job of portrayed Christopher Walken as Captain Hook and kept me in stiches from his entrance to his demise.
Much like last years The Sound of Music, the real show stopping performances came from the Broadway vets of the supporting cast. Kelli O’Hara and Christian Borle were radiant as the Darlings (with Borle doubling as Mr. Smee). Ms. O’Hara, in particular, was the true highlight of the show. Her voice is glorious and her presence on screen grounded the show in its Broadway roots. Mr. Borle brought his comedy chops, once again, to the NBC live broadcast and his Mr. Smee was exceedingly funny.
The production team is not to be forgotten. Rob Ashford’s direction was spot on and his choreography was breathtaking to watch. Catherine Zuber’s costume design and Derek McLane’s sets completed the story and brought Neverland into our living rooms.
I applaud Mr. Zadan and Mr. Meron, as well as NBC, for bringing Broadway to the masses and giving those without theatre at their fingertips a little taste of the magic of live theatre. I think those self-anointed theatre “snobs” should come down off of their high horses for a moment to remember what it was like to be a theatre nerd as a kid and the joy they felt watching Mary Martin (or whomever) portray the iconic Peter Pan and then let that feeling wash over them and maybe then they will appreciate musical theatre, wherever it is presented. I know the army it takes to put on a production like this and the passion they have, so I am loath to rip them apart for taking a chance on something that we need more of in this world.