It may have started when I first saw Mary Martin flying around on TV as Peter Pan in the 1950s, not sure. It may have been the 78 RPMs (kids, look it up) my parents had where I first heard “My Fair Lady” or those 45 RPM sets of Broadway shows. I can still sing every word of “Fiddler on the Roof,” “Camelot,” "Guys and Dolls," and a show many don’t remember but I still think is terrific and has relevance today, “Fiorello.” I fill with emotion during overtures in the theater, when the orchestra starts to rev up and literally set the stage.
Which brings me to last night’s production of “Peter Pan” live on NBC. It wasn’t great, but it still kept me watching for three hours. Why? It was live, and it’s always more fun to watch actors live; it’s a musical and, well, it’s Peter Pan. Peter is always played by an adult woman for a variety of reasons, ranging from in England kids under 14 couldn’t work past 9 p.m. and, if it were always done at matinee time, a boy cast as Peter would mean the other kids’ would need to be scaled down in size, limiting the casting (who says you can’t learn from this blog?).
A lyric from one song in Pan is "I know a place where dreams are born..." which maybe describes my love of musical theater.
Anyway, this was NBC’s second recent effort at producing a live musical in prime time – their first, “The Music Man” while well watched, was horrible (partly owing to the casting of George Castanza as Henry Hill). Which brings me to last night’s show. Not so good. Not only could you see the wires attached to the actors in case thinking good thoughts wasn’t enough to get off the ground, but the acting was, well, like musical theater acting (duh) which means a bit over the top in a musical, which doesn’t play so well on the small screen. Christopher Walken I thought was great casting before I saw him in the role but he kind of sleep walked through it, only getting that twinkle in the eye I like to see in my Captain Hooks a few times.
Allison Williams, who looks a lot like her dad (the NBC anchorman Brian) was good, I thought, but she was always smiling which I found disconcerting even for Peter Pan. Kelli O’Hara, a huge Broadway star, was underused as Mrs. Darling. Walken showed spurts of his terrific-ness but also spurts of, “what am I doing in this drag outfit” though watching Walken tap dance was a little like watching a skit on Saturday Night Live (and I mean that in a good way). The actor (actress?) in the crocodile get-up was very convincing and Smee (played by the same guy who played Mr. Darling), I thought was the energy of the production.
So, a fair, not great show but I want NBC (and other networks) to keep trying. I want to see more live TV and more Broadway on TV. Please keep trying. This is the kind of reality TV i like.