Peter Pan - Live!, on NBC
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streaming sites: FandangoNOW; iTunes; Vudu
Caution: potential spoilers.
A live performance (on December 4, 2014) of a musical play based on J. M. Barrie's 1904 (non-muscal) play "Peter Pan." The musical was originally performed on Broadway in 1954, and it was broadcast live on NBC in 1955, and would again be performed for live television several times in the following years. After the success of The Sound of Music Live! in 2013, "Peter Pan" seemed like an obvious choice to follow up with a second live musical broadcast the next year. I've never seen any performance of the original musical, though I've always wanted to (and hopefully I will someday). But I am a fan of other versions of the story, so of course I was excited to see this new TV version. It stars Allison Williams, with whom I am unfamiliar. (It is a tradition for Peter Pan to be played by women, in stage versions.) Captain Hook is played by Christopher Walken, whom I know from various things. But most of the cast are actors I've never heard of, who I guess are theatre people. Anyway, I guess there were some changes from the original musical, but I wouldn't notice that. Most of the songs were unfamiliar to me whether they were new or old, though one or two sounded vaguely familiar. I didn't really love any of the songs, but generally they were okay.
As for the plot, it was familiar enough. Wendy Darling reads stories to her younger brothers, John and Michael. And unbeknownst to them, a boy named Peter Pan also listens to the stories, from outside their window. Then one night, while the Darlings' parents are out, Peter and his fairy friend, Tinker Bell, come in to look for Peter's shadow, which he'd lost there earlier. (As is traditional for such productions, Tink is just a tiny ball of light, and doesn't speak, though she does make sounds that Peter understands.) Wendy wakes up and meets Peter, who tells her about the place he's from: Never Land. She wants to go there, so Peter teaches her and her brothers to fly, and they go with him. Once in Never Land, they meet Peter's friends, the Lost Boys, as well as a tribe of native islanders, the main one being a girl named Tiger Lily. The tribe and the Lost Boys play at war against each other, apparently, though it didn't seem to me like we really saw that in this production, so much as heard about it. But they all had a common enemy in Captain Hook and his pirate crew. Hook wants revenge against Peter for having cut off his hand at some point in the past, I guess. Though it seems odd to me that Peter would have done anything so serious when he always thought of battles as games. But now Hook has a plan to kill the Lost Boys. And stuff. So Peter sort of gets more serious, but he never seemed too serious.
Meanwhile, Peter and the Lost Boys had gotten Wendy to pretend to be their mother, and read them stories. She convinced Peter to pretend to be their father, but he never took that game seriously at all, since he was more interested in being Wendy's son than her husband. Of course, Wendy and Tink and Tiger Lily all seem to have romantic feelings for Peter, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why. Sure, he can fly, but other than that he seems no different from any other young boy who just wants to play all the time. And he had no interest in romance or anything like that. Plus he's incredibly arrogant, and forgetful. But mostly just childish, to the point that I think Wendy is both too old for him and too mature, and whatever her feelings for Peter border on pedophilia, at least emotionally speaking. (And that goes double for Tiger Lily.)
Anyway, the plot meandered a lot, and the whole thing felt rather disjointed. And three hours was an awfully long time to fill with such a thin story. Honestly, it never felt like there was much progress from plot point to plot point. Even once the good guys figured out what the bad guys were up to, and talked about fighting back, they basically just went back to whatever they normally do, and waited for stuff to happen. And the pirates took their sweet time in advancing the plot, themselves. But eventually the Lost Boys and the Darlings were captured, and Peter had to go rescue them, and there was a big fight, and of course the good guys won. And the Darlings went home, and took most of the Lost Boys with them (all except Peter). And... then we flash forward to the future, when Wendy's a grown woman with a daughter of her own, named Jane. And Peter comes for a visit, having no idea so much time has passed since he last saw Wendy. But now Jane goes away with Peter, and Wendy, in a stunning display of bad parenting, is happy to let her go (for awhile), and hopes that this whole scenario will repeat for many generations to come, since Peter's never going to grow up and for some reason that makes him awesome. (Well, to be fair, I kind of like that about him, but... it's complicated. I mean, even though I'm an adult, I'll still never completely grow up, myself, and there are some aspects of remaining a kid at heart that I cherish, and some that I lament. I do think the idea of Peter Pan is a good one, but I can't help feeling the idea of a "boy who never grows up" is deserving of a more magical story, one that does a better job of really showing the joys of childhood... without making the main character so completely childish.)
Anyway. Apparently some (maybe all) critics thought this production was mediocre, but still better than last year's production of "The Sound of Music." But personally, I thought that one was a lot better than this one, on pretty much every level. Although I will say I did quite like the sets in this production, and the costumes, and the dancing. And I liked Wendy well enough, even if she had questionable taste in boys. And Tiger Lily seemed like the only character in the show who had much sense, so it's a shame she didn't have a bigger role. And... even if I was somewhat disappointed in the show, it was still fun to watch. I like the idea of these live events, and I'm hoping NBC continues this new tradition for years to come. (It kind of makes me nostalgic for an era that was before my time.)