Friday, December 5, 2014

NBC's "Peter Pan" Needs Its Wires To Fly - 12/4/2014

Allison Williams as Peter Pan
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Peter Pan is youth! Peter Pan is joy! Peter Pan is blander than rice!

Following the commercial success of last year's live broadcast of "The Sound Of Music;" NBC decided to continue it's apparent "holiday tradition" of televised editions of classic musicals with its production of "Peter Pan" on Thursday, December 4, 2014. The musical, based on the children's story by J. M. Barrie and produced on Broadway in 1954, tells the story of the titular character, Peter Pan, how he refuses to ever grow up and of his adventures on the magical island of Never Never Land. And while this production does everything in its power to bring new magic to the classic story with beautiful sets and costumes, it definitely needed the help of its flying harnesses to take off.

The role of Peter was tackled this time by Allison Williams; daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. Known best for her role in the HBO series "Girls," Williams has a lovely singing voice and manages to pull off some fancy aerial acrobatics while soaring around the Grumman Studios sound stage, but her performance suffers from wooden acting and an inability to portray any kind of emotion whatsoever. Yes, Peter Pan is a young adolescent, but he's still written to show basic human emotions. Williams is far too monotoned throughout the show and never emotes unless its to grin in a tomboyish fashion. It doesn't help that the script for this adaptation has added a considerable amount of dialogue and several new musical numbers to help develop its characters, and yet Williams seemed unable to work effectively with the material she had been given.

Christopher Walken as Captain Hook
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Pan is opposed by the one-handed swashbuckler, Captain James Hook, played by Academy Award winner Christopher Walken. As an actor; Walken has always been tricky to interpret. Sometimes he's underplayed and other times he's chewing the scenery like taffy, but there's always been a passion to his performances that is difficult to imitate; despite many Saturday Night Live attempts to do just that. Unfortunately, he seems to have left that passion behind for this show. One would think that Walken would be perfectly fit for a character whom is typically known for his foppish behavior, especially given Walken's reputation for being a dancer, but his heart just didn't seem to be in it this time around. Every other pirate on that ship had three times the energy and was just more fun to watch. You know you've got a problem when Mr. Smee (played by Christian Borle) is considerably more interesting and funny than the guy who is supposed to be the main villain of your story.

Speaking of the supporting cast, the trio of English siblings of Wendy, John and Michael are played by Taylor Louderman, Jake Lucas and John Allyn respectively. The young actors did manage to bring a charming engagement to the show with their youthful innocence and the juxtaposition of their English class coupled with a desire to wage war on pirates. Peter's gang of "Lost Boys" have enough energy to fill the entire stage, as does Alanna Saunders in the role of island native Princess Tiger Lily and her tribe. This is also one of the first adaptations of the story to bring a certain political correctness forward. The "natives" are no longer referred to as "Indians" and the song formerly titled "Ugg-a-Wugg" has been reworked with new lyrics made up of more traditional Native American chants. The song, which is now titled "True Blood Brothers," had been deemed offensive in recent years due to its stereotypical nonsense syllables.

"Peter Pan" aired on NBC on Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014
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Several new songs have been worked into the score for this production all of them written by Broadway veteran Amanda Green, daughter of one of the musical's original lyricists Adolph Green. Many of them work to flesh out the characters more than the original musical and show what's going on their hearts and minds. Captain Hook is given a new introduction number called "Vengeance" in which he sings of his hatred of Peter Pan, Wendy explores her emotional feelings for Peter in "Only Pretend," and Peter gets a solo entitled "When I Went Home" in which he sings about his personal reasons of why he profoundly refuses to leave Neverland. Not all the songs are victories, unfortunately. The classic number "I Won't Grow Up" is dragged out for quite some time; to the point where I was simply waiting for it to end. In addition, one of the new songs entitled "A Wonderful World Without Peter" which is sung by Pan and Hook is one of the most boring things ever heard. It doesn't fit the mood of the scene and is only dragged further down by Williams's and Walken's dull and disinterested performances.

Ultimately, this new adaptation of "Peter Pan" manages to bring the story to life once more with new and intriguing material, beautiful visuals for a live performance, and a stellar supporting cast. It's just kind of a big problem when your two main leads just seem bored and waiting for their paycheck. This show manages to fly, but it certainly needs a good helping of pixie dust to match the magic of the originals.

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