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“LIVE Peter” Pan on NBC? Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus!

Original Peter Pan Costume Design by William Nicholson for Nina Boucicault in 1904

Original Peter Pan Costume Design by William Nicholson for Nina Boucicault in 1904

The big news at NBC, besides the retirement of Jay Leno, is that the network is going to produce a “live” version of the Comden/Green/Charlap/Leigh/Robbins and Mary Martin musical comedy. It seems that their Sound of Music far out reached their viewer expectations and they want to follow-up with another blockbuster. My only negative comment: what took them so long? It’s been years since the video of the Mary Martin version hit the small screen (also on NBC) and a long time since the Cathy Rigby version was telecast as well. Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, who produced the film versions of Chicago, Hairspray, as well as the most recent televised adaptations of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella and The Sound of Music, will be producing.

I did not view The Sound of Music as we have no cable or antenna in my home but I shall rent the DVD in the next few months. From what I have read, the critics were not pleased with Carrie Underwood’s performance, nor, for that matter, were my theatre students, who instead were thrilled by the actors playing the children. In response to the negative reviews, Underwood has replied that “mean people need Jesus. They will be in my prayers tonight…” I guess if she received good reviews the critics would be “nice people”. However, I shall not let myself be affected by any reviews (nor compare this television adaptation with the film version) but instead allow the musical to speak for itself. The main concern I have is that Zadan and Meron will hire an actress who has not only the marquee value but also will be more than merely competent in taking on the legendary role of Peter Pan. Or, am I crazy here? Perhaps they would hire a young actor who could convey the innocence of the role while maintaining a sense of masculinity so necessary to convey the bravado of the character. In either case, the producers need a casting coup that will ensure an excellent performance and keep audiences into tuning in for more television adaptations of  our classic family theatre. Even with it’s less than techie-perfect advantages, the 1960 Mary Martin video remains a charmer.

Some hopes I have for the new production? Well, for one, I’d like to see all of the original Broadway version televised. Even the Mary Martin telecasts were edited down to fit the allotted time slots. And although the Cathy Rigby versions later took out “Mysterious Lady” and replaced it with the “Marooner’s  Rock” scene, which she maintained as crucial to the original play. I agree with her that it is indeed crucial to the “original” play but a musical adaptation is no longer the original. Besides, I think it would be a fun challenge to stage the only musical number featuring the two leads, Peter Pan and Captain Hook.

Peter Pan guarding the Wendy House in Neverland. This lithograph is part of a series that was issued in the late twenties or early thirties in England.

Peter Pan guarding the Wendy House in Neverland. This lithograph is part of a series that was issued in the late twenties or early thirties in England.

I would also like to see a less FAO Schwarz Toy Store approach to the Darling nursery. The reason they hired Nana, a dog, as the children’s nurse is because Mr. and Mrs. Darling were not very financially set. Depictions of the nursery as a Victorian playhouse heaven of sorts might look good but it does not help in understanding why the children would want to leave home.

Also, (I did not realize that I had so many wishes) I hope that the part of Tiger Lily is cast with someone as quirky and adorable as Sondra Lee. Too often new productions cast a beautiful actress/dancer who is extremely sexual in her approach to the role. That was one of the joys in Jerome Robbins’ original casting; the performers had distinct and memorable personalities.

I read a couple of comments on line from viewers complaining that the “live” performance of The Sound of Music looked like any other filmed presentation for television. They thought that “live” meant in front of an audience. Well folks, even the 1955 and ’56 the “live” performances of Peter Pan were indeed live but there were no theatre audiences. Those productions were shot in Brooklyn at NBC’s football like arena studio where the actors could go from scene to scene rather than waiting for scene changes. Harvey Schmidt, the Broadway composer, and Mr. Robert Gable, a studio artist of the period, and a good friend of mine, were among the painters for the sets in those productions. As a matter of fact it was through Robert and Harvey that I was able to interview Mary Martin for my book.

I guess I am going on and on but I do want this new television version of Peter Pan to be a success!  Perhaps Messieurs Zadan and Meron will use me as a creative consultant. Oh well, I can dream, can’t I?  🙂  Meanwhile, on this side of reality, I continue teaching theatre and pottery while also writing and illustrating a children’s book about my cats, Izzy and Whitey. Happy New Year!

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