There are two kinds of people that watched NBC’s presentation of Peter Pan Live! on Thursday night: people that actually love musicals and people who were hoping for a train wreck. Live theater is always risky, so some may have tuned in to see if anything insanely wrong happened. Haters of last year’s Sound of Music Liiiiiive! were probably resting their tweeting fingers and sharpening their knives, but the straightforward telling of Peter Pan was far more engaging than last year’s presentation.
To be perfectly honest, Peter Pan is a very nice choice for a family musical. It’s bright, simple, and uncomplicated for the most part. Allison Williams plays the boy who refuses to grow up, and all those Girls haters can shut their mouths. While she’s not as nimble as Cathy Rigby or Mary Martin, Williams is game. Her Peter seems a bit more serious, but perhaps she was just worried about the live telecast. Williams’ first scene with Wendy is pretty cute, and she does a good job. The rest of the presentation could probably be summed up into three groups: the good, the awkward and the ugly.
Kelli O’Hara: Musical theater geeks surely squealed when they saw O’Hara and Christian Borle on screen as Mr. and Mrs. Darling at the top of the show. Everyone to soak in as much of her as possible, because she’s barely in Peter Pan, but the moments with her beautiful voice are some of the highlights of the entire presentation. How does she not have a Tony Award?!
The Sets: Neverland is bright and colorful. The trees are kind of Seussicalian, and the Lost Boys hideout looks like it’s coming to a Crate & Barrel near you. One could say that this is partial house porn, because I never thought I could get rustic paneling ideas from NBC’s Peter Pan Live.
Boys, boys, boys: When the show was starting to fall flat, there was one thing that could be depended on: the boys of Peter Pan Live. If you were worried that the smiley, twinky ensemble members of Broadway’s Newsies were going to be unemployed, you had to look no further than this presentation. The Lost Boys looked like they were all assembled from a piano cabaret in Midtown (not an insult whatsoever), and the pirates were the butcher, muscled men you moved on from after said twinky boys in Midtown. Let’s be honest: those dancers were hypnotizing and way too exciting to watch. These are not your community theater Lost Boys and pirate. Someone get me a bib to wipe the drool from my face. If that wasn’t enough, Christian Borle’s arms came out of the closet Thursday night. He’s most well-known for playing the gay composer from Smash, and he won a Tony for (ironically) playing a comical pirate in Peter and the Starcatcher. When he showed up as Smee, we all discovered how big his biceps are. It caused such a stir that it already has its own Twitter.
Christopher Walken: I hate to even say this, but he looked lost the entire time. He may not receive as much scorn as, say, Carrie Underwood, but it’s safe to say that he is the Pierce Brosnan of Peter Pan Live. Early on, they came back from commercial in a somewhat tight close up, and Walken appeared to have flubbed his lines. Hey, it’s live theater, and he’s a respected actor. We shouldn’t harp.
Tinkerbell’s Dead: One of the best things about Peter Pan onstage is the sequence where the kids bring Tinkerbell back to life. I honestly had forgotten all about the scene, and I was dreading it as soon as I remembered. Consider that fourth wall destroyed, because Williams spoke right to the camera (in near silence) to bring the fairy back to life. It might have been the quickest resurrection ever, because of how awkward it was for her to reach right into our living rooms.
Pan and Hook are Buds: When Peter and Hook finally meet, it’s one of the most awkward confrontations I’ve ever seen. There’s no tension…no playfulness…no chemistry. Did Williams and Walken even meet before they stepped onstage?
The Longest Note in the World: Someone at NBC thought it would be funny to play on a money note that Hook sings at the end of his big song in his first scene. During the commercial breaks, they would briefly cut back to Walken on the ship still holding that note, but there are two things wrong with that idea. That “note” is dreadful. It sounds like Fozzy Bear farting into a whoopee cushion. Secondly, it was obviously pre-recorded, because Walken kept messing up when to stop “holding out the note.” It was dreadful.
Slowest Sword Fight…EVER! Maybe they were afraid of actually hurting each other? Maybe they forgot to have a fight call prior to starting? All I know is that the sword fight in the climactic scene looked like it was in slow motion. If that wasn’t wretched enough, the sounds of the swords clinking didn’t match up with the action when Peter started fighting Hook. Eeeeekkk!
The Hook Bump: Captain Hook fist bumps a fellow pirate with his hook before he walks the plank. I can’t say any more about it, because I had to walk out of the room when I saw it initially.
The best thing about these kind of events is that musical theater is getting projected to an audience that doesn’t see it. Yes, I know that musicals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there needs to be an appreciation for this kind of stuff if you enjoy it. We probably wouldn’t have upcoming films like Annie and Into the Woods if it wasn’t for presentations like Peter Pan Live. Some little potato farmer’s son in Idaho might get turned onto musical theater because he caught five minutes of this on television. Who knows. I took great fun in being snarky on Twitter and Facebook, but I love stuff like this.