NBC Sprinkles Fairy Dust Over Viewers for Live Telecast of J. M. Barrie”s Timeless Family Classic Peter Pan
By: Ellis Nassour
Close your eyes and make a wish to fly to Never Never Land because this Thursday all of America [and then some] will be sprinkled with fairy dust in the new three-hour [with commercials] production of the 1954 musical adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s play about the boy that never grew up, Peter Pan, airing live on NBC on December 4 at 8 P.M. Eastern.
Directing and choreographing is Tony and Drama Desk winner [and multiple nominee] Rob Ashford [choreographer: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Curtains, and director/choreographer: Promises Promises and How to Succeed… revivals; TV’s Sound of Music Live telecast; choreographer, Sir Kenneth Branagh’s upcoming non-musical fantasy drama Cinderella]. The production is designed by Tony and DD-winner [and multiple nominee] Derek McLane. Costumes are by multiple Tony and DD-winner [and multiple nominee] Catherine Zuber.
[As with their highly-rated live telecast last year of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, starring Carrie Underwood and which drew an audience estimated at 18-million, Peter Pan will surely be repeated in the very near future. Peter Pan, broadcast in the festive holiday season, is expected to draw many more].
There’s a score CD available and soon-to-released DVD.
The musicalization of Barrie’s play has an interesting pedigree. There’s the score by Mark "Moose" Charlap and lyrics by Carolyn Leigh with direction and choreography by Jerome Robbins. In its West Coast premiere, there wasn’t enough fairy dust to make it boffo. Robbins brought in Jule Style to write additional music and Betty Comden and Adolph Green for additional lyrics. Later, Amanda Green, daughter of Green and Phyllis Newman, added new material.
The cast: Allison Williams/Peter; Christopher Walken/Captain Hook; Kelli O’Hara/Mrs. Darling; Christian Borle/Mr. Smee and George Darling; Alanna Saunders/Tiger Lily; Caitlin Houlahan/Jane; and Minnie Driver as the adult Wendy/Narrator. The Darling children are Taylor Louderman/Wendy; Jake Lucas/John; and John Allyn as Michael. Bowdie plays Nana.
Williams, a co-star of the hit TV series Girls, is the daughter of NBC News anchor Brian Williams. She says playing the role of Peter Pan "is, of course, a dream come true. It’s been a magical experience. In fact, it’s been all you ever could want as an actor."
"It’s a little scary," admitted former Broadway song and dance man Walken. "There’re so many people working on it [46-member cast; 350-member crew], it’s like a huge military operation." The estimated cost of the production is $10-million.
Trivia: Borle played Max in the telecast of SOM; and this production is not the first live telecast by NBC of PP. More trivia: December 2 marked the 100th anniversary of Adolph’s birth.
Craig Zadan and Neil Meron [Oscar-winning Chicago; TV Smash, Liza’s at the Palace, and Gypsy; NBC’s live telecast The Sound of Music] are executive producers.
After several weeks of prep, flying lessons, and a month of intense rehearsals with cast and the huge ensemble, the production will be telecast from huge elaborate sets in Long Island at Grumman Studios [former aircraft building complex] that allow shooting 360 degree perspectives.
As is often the case, changes have been made for the new TV version. Amanda Green, daughter of Green and Phyliss Newman, has added new songs with lyrical adaptations. With Jule Styne and Betty Comden, she contributed tunes for later productions, including one that’s long been assumed to have been in the original musical version, "Never Never Land.
New material includes "Vengeance" for Hook and "Only Pretend" for Wendy – both are from the Styne/Comden and Green musical Do Re Mi [the former adapted from that score’s "Ambition"; the latter, "I Know About Love"; and "A Wonderful World without Peter," a Peter and Hook duet, adapted from "Something’s Always Happening On The River" from the composers’ Say, Darling. In addition, "Ugg-a-Wugg," long considered "racially insensitive," has been rewritten and given a new title, "True Blood Brothers." "Oh My Mysterious Lady," a song written specifically for Miss Martin has been cut.
There have been many adaptations of Barrie’s classic story beginning with a lavish B&W 1924 treatment [Paramount Pictures] that was quite a sensation. The Legendary actress Maude Adams began the tradition of playing the title role as a boy when she starred in the 1905 Broadway premiere and dominated the role with three subsequent revivals. There was a 1924 revival. In 1928, the equally legendary Eva Le Gallienne portrayed Peter for 28 performances when the Barrie play was presented in repertory by a French theater group. The role has occasionally been played by a male. In 1950, Barrie’s classic returned to Broadway with film star Jean Arthur as Peter and, get this, the legendary horror film star Boris Karloff as Darling/Hook.
Disney’s 1953 animated version became an ageless classic. There was a Japanese TV series. The1954 limited-run stage version starring Mary Martin and Cyril Richard [both won Tonys] and flying by Foy was pre-sold to NBC and restaged in the studio for an hour-long [90 minutes with commercials] 1955 live color telecast, which attracted an audience estimated to be a record 65-million. In 1960, with Miss Martin and Richard, it was restaged for another airing.
Another successful TV musical adaptation of Peter Pan was a 1976 Emmy-winning airing starring Mia Farrow as Peter and Danny Kaye as Hook — with Sir John Gielgud as narrator. A new score [mostly forgotten] by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse was introduced. Julie Andrews sang "Once Upon a Bedtime" over the opening credits.
In 1979, Sandy Duncan [Tony and Drama Desk-nominated] soared into Broadway in a hit revival that co-starred the inimitable George Rose as Darling/Hook. Among many other adaptations, there’s Spielberg’s 1991 $70,000,000 Hook [Tri-Star/Columbia], headlined by Dustin Hoffman, Robin Williams (Peter), and Julia Roberts (Tinkerbell) and more of a spin off of Barrie’s tale. This was followed by the 2000 Kathy Rigby TV movie and a 2003 spectacular [$100,000,000] Aussie live-action film [Tri-Star/Columbia] that was very true to Barrie.
Visit www.nbc/peterpan-live.com for an array of features including downloadable photos and map of Never Never Land, sneak peek and dance mash-up video, shopping, and games.