Written by Marisa Carpico
Peter Pan Live Summary:
The classic tale of Peter Pan is produced live for television starring Girls’ Allison Williams and Oscar nominee Christopher Walken.
Last year, Oscar broadcast producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, gave us The Sound of Music Live! Clearly not learning from the mistakes they made with Katherine McPhee on Smash–the show that brought the concept of “hate-watching” into the vernacular–they cast American Idol winner and first-time actress Carrie Underwood as Maria. The choice pretty much doomed the broadcast from the start and the show became a pop cultural event as snarky viewers on social media mercilessly tore the production apart in real time.
With this year’s Peter Pan Live!, Meron and Zadan seem to have finally learned their lesson. This time, they cast Girls’ Allison Williams in the traditionally female-played role of Peter. They also took on a less-beloved musical. Pan, despite numerous stage productions and a handful of past live-broadcasts, doesn’t inhabit quite the same place in pop culture as Sound. Because of this there was less possibility for audiences to feel like they were watching the massacre of a beloved property. And, shockingly, they seemed to succeed in putting on a decent if interminably long show.
Williams, though unable to nail that Broadway belt, has a pleasant voice and can actually act. Her Peter was fun and sprightly even if her British accent slipped on occasion. The play also better lent itself to live TV spectacle. The numerous dance numbers made for a fun and energetic broadcast that captured the youthful spirit of the musical. Even the sets and camerawork were better this year. The shots were dynamic and fluid even if there were too many close-ups and constant focus problems. The sets were colorful and imaginative even if they were still clearly cardboard. The whole production really came together.
And yet, it was somehow infinitely less fun to watch. Last year, I barely made it through the first hour, opting instead to go to a bar and drink away the memory of the atrocity I’d just witnessed. As I sat there nursing my drink, I kept reading the reactions to the show on Twitter and Facebook and laughing hysterically, much to the confusion of my drinking partners. This year, I settled in ready to watch the social media fireworks and was sorely disappointed an hour in when I realized they weren’t coming. There was not much to love or hate during Peter Pan Live! — it was just a straightforward, earnest piece of middle-brow entertainment.
The closest the production came to offering even a shred of last year’s strange, campy joy was Christopher Walken, who gave a Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady performance speak-singing all of his songs. Walken, who started in the business as a dancer, agreed to the production only if the producers promised to give him as much dancing as possible. However, like the rest of his performance, the sort of shuffling steps he did in lieu of tap dancing felt dialed in and almost embarrassing. There were numerous moments throughout the broadcast where it wasn’t clear if Walken was making a choice to be weird or had plum forgotten his lines. It was painful to watch.
Even the musical, with all its high-wire flying and dancing lost boys felt somehow off. Despite songs written by musical greats like Jule Styne and the team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green (some of them worked on by Green’s daughter for the broadcast), Pan doesn’t have a lot of great numbers. Perhaps the only number that didn’t feel somewhat stagey was “Never Grow Up.” The rest were awkward and went on for far too long. Even the usually-ebullient “I’m Flying” seemed a little lifeless. Yet none of it was bad enough to merit intense derision.
I suppose Meron and Zadan can’t really be blamed for wanting to make a legitimately good show, but in succeeding, they’ve also taken all the life out of the experience. Considering the ratings were huge for the broadcast (though half of last year’s), NBC is probably already planning next year’s Live! musical. At this point, I can’t decide if I want whatever musical they choose to be better or worse than this year’s. On one hand, I’d love to see a solid, great production of a beloved musical. On the other, I want to laugh at the absurdity. Either way, I’ll be sitting in front of my television next year, Twitter open and ready, hoping to experience that magic one more time.