Allison Williams as Peter Pan, on the other hand, was the worst thing the iconic cross-dressing orphan with the Oedipus complex could be: Just fine. Allison Williams sang well. Her accent was fine. Her stage presence was there. It was strange, then. She looked like a Peter Pan. She crowed like a Peter Pan. But she just wasn’t Peter Pan.
That Williams wasn’t half bad actually illuminated the biggest problem with Peter Pan Live! The other half—the show itself—kind of is. It’s been a few years—decades, really—since we played out our VHS tapes of Mary Martin’s indelible performance as the boy who won’t grow up, and unlike Peter, we apparently do forget. Chiefly, we forgot the many, many problems there are with the bones—the book and score—to this show.
For example, it’s so slow in the beginning. Musicals typically start with a bang. Peter Pan starts with a bore. It literally opens with people going to bed. The first song is a lullaby. The splendid Kelli O’Hara as Mrs. Darling is actually cooing at us to fall asleep.
Then there’s the fact that most of the dialogue, particularly anything uttered by a pirate, makes sense only half of the time. There are weird things about Peter Pan, the musical, that you can’t fault for Peter Pan. The script has always been a little bit batty, what with the not-so thinly veiled racism and the whole Peter calling Wendy “mother” but also so clearly wanting to bone her the whole time. And Captain Hook just basically being a bitter, vengeful drag queen.
There were, however, specific decisions made by the creative team of Peter Pan Live! And many of those decisions made no sense. Like, why were all the Lost Boys in Neverland dressed like German schoolchildren, but Peter was dressed like the fairy hobo birthed from the bushes that we all know and love? Did the producers just reuse the Von Trapp children from last year and hope that no one would notice?
There was also an off-putting conflict between whimsy and realism. The sets—which, really, were a feat of design and direction—appeared to be remnants of a Lewis Carroll fever dream. Tiger Lily and her tribe, however, were outfitted in semi-realistic outfits. And, with the exception of Walken and his band of pirates, every actor’s performance carried with it a sedated earnestness that clashed with the trippy design aesthetic, making much of the production lack the necessary twinkle.
But, reliably, just when it seemed like the production was going to go the way of Tinker Bell and die in spite of itself, a rousing, entertainment production number would reenergize things again and earn the kind of applause that would bring it back to life.
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