NBC has released a teaser pic of Allison Williams as Peter Pan to promote their holiday LIVE! presentation of the classic musical. I have to say, she looks pretty good. I think the costume is sufficiently imaginative and whimsical while also being somewhat masculine and rugged. That being said, Allison Williams is Peter Pan LIVE! strikes me as a somewhat strange–though intriguing–follow up to The Sound of Music LIVE! True, they are both familiar, family-friendly titles (that featured Tony-winning performances by Mary Martin in their original Broadway incarnations). But with The Sound of Music they took the opportunity to present a the original libretto of a show most people know in its revised movie form. A remake of The Sound of Music would be wholly unnecessary, but in using the less familiar text NBC instead provided an alternative take and in the process preserved a version of the text that is rarely seen, with most major revivals choosing to incorporate structural changes from the film.
Peter Pan, on the other hand, is a perennial favorite but lacking the definitively familiar version. It’s hard to imagine wanting anything more than the 1960 telecast which preserved Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard’s performances as well as Jerome Robbins’ typically excellent choreography. Though it aired repeatedly for thirty-some years and been intermittently available on VHS and DVD, I fear more recent generations just haven’t been raised on it like I was. And, truth be told, I can see what I find perfectly charming coming off as twee or old fashioned for some contemporary audiences (though the fact that it is not available on DVD is nothing short of criminal). As a text, Peter Pan is far less sturdy than Sound of Music with songs by two unrelated writing teams (Moose Charlap/Carolyn Leigh, Jule Styne/Betty Comden/Aldolph Green), some extraneous ballet involving a redundant maid character and some fantastical animals (a kangaroo and a “Noodler”), and a bizarre number in which Peter impersonates a woman and seduces Captain Hook (“Mysterious Lady”) . More readily available is Cathy Rigby’s updated version (of which I’ve personally never been a fan) which wisely cuts “Mysterious Lady” and adds a sequence with Mermaids. Of course, there’s the increasingly tricky business of how to tastefully handle the Native American character Tiger Lily and her song “Ugg-a-Wugg”. So while The Sound of Music could never have hoped to be more than a supplement to the beloved movie (and any number of cast recordings), NBC’s new Peter Pan could likely be THE Peter Pan for a generation.
Carrie Underwood was the sort of household name executives no doubt needed for piece of mind when they agreed to air a three hour long Nazi musical, but aside from her tv-vampire Captain, she was surrounded by theatrical veterans. Though Underwood can probably take credit for a certain share of The Sound of Music’s ratings success, she certainly took the brunt of the bad reviews. In casting Christopher Walken as Captain Hook, NBC has assured a certain amount of Hollywood cache (and what promises to be an interesting performance), but his name doesn’t necessarily share Underwood’s family-friendly, middle-America popularity. Allison Williams is a curious choice and one can’t tell at the juncture if it’s another bit of stunt casting, or an earnest, merit-based choice. She has no theater credits to speak of, but she also barely ranks as a celebrity. True she has a leading role of HBO’s Girls, but how many people outside of NYC, LA and the blogosphere actually watch it? So either NBC got “No’s” from their first-through-99th choices, or Williams legitimately blew everyone away with her audition. And unlike The Sound of Music, Peter Pan doesn’t offer the opportunity for a supporting cast of Broadway favorites. The only other cast member announced is Christian Borle, who will play curious combination of Smee and Mr. Darling (the later role is traditionally doubled with Hook), but there are seemingly few other opportunities for adults.