‘Peter Pan Live!’ Review: Pan Soars, Hook Sinks

Dec 5, 2014 at 11:18 am |
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Allison WIlliams as Peter Pan invites us to fly away to Neverland in NBC's "Peter Pan Live!"

Allison Williams plays Peter Pan in NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!” which aired Dec. 4 (Photo by YouTube/ NBC)

Following the success of last year’s seasonal musical spectacle, The Sound of Music Live, NBC decided to try and continue the tradition with Peter Pan Live!, which aired last night from 8 – 11 p.m.

Well it seems that NBC was merely thinking happy thoughts, because unless you’ve been under a rock for the past 15 hours, you’ve probably heard that the rendition of Sir J.M. Barrie’s 1904 play and perennially sentimental 1911 novel was an artistic disaster.

Described by some as “Pan-demonium,” the lengthy production bore on through the night, ignorant of the thousands of hate-tweets that simultaneously berated and exalted the show’s quirkiness. In our day and age, such virtual vitriol is to be expected, and Allison Williams, the Girls actress who played the title character, stated earlier this week,

If you’re going to hate-watch it with all your friends, so you can drink wine and Tweet at each other about how it’s bad… you need to just go ahead and take those lenses out of your glasses, and put in the lenses that you had when you were six.

But the 26-year-old actress had nothing to worry about. Her performance as the boy who will never grow up was light, inviting, and perfectly careless – just like Peter himself. Not only did she gracefully soar (literally) through the production, beyond London, beyond Neverland, and sometimes beyond the soundstage, but she sang the night away as well. And for somebody who was being hoisted to and fro in an uncomfortable body harness, she sang pretty darn well. Not too many actresses out there besides Dora could break the fourth wall while imploring us to help save fairies, but Allison pulled it off without breaking character. For a brief moment, it was like she was staring into all of our jaded souls, and somewhere deep down inside, you knew you wanted to clap and save Tink. Instead, you probably just took another sip of wine. A for effort, Williams.

Audiences first should have known that this was never going to be like the well-known and well-loved 1953 Disney adaption. Instead, it was a refreshing update from the likes of Mary Martin in NBC telecasts from the ’50s. While Williams still has much to learn about being a boy (or about stage presence), her not-overly-effeminate portrayal of Peter Pan was still less shrill and frankly more bearable than Martin’s.

Sure, Twitter-verse, it’s easy to type 140 characters or less hating on what really is meant to be a show for children (even though it went until 11 on a school night), but it would be impractical to expect the cast to fly without us seeing at least a few cables. And while the real-life Nana (played by 2 dogs) may have wowed us, the fairly fabulous, sashaying crocodile/ Komodo dragon of course had to be played by a human in costume. You win some you lose some. Couldn’t we instead have focused on the incredible sets, or the immense dancing talent of the Lost [frat] Boys?

The true tragedy of the night came from someone we didn’t necessarily expect to let us down. The prolific and typically pleasant actor Christopher Walken gave us the most burnt-out and boring Captain James Hook we have ever seen. Although Hook is described as an intellectual, nefarious villain in the original literature, time has changed him into a more bumbling, if not poetic and dance savvy fiend. As soon as his screen time began, Walken (71) had us wondering how much Xanax he had popped before the show. Not only was he flat-out boring, but he didn’t even seem to be trying at all, which is perhaps one of the worst lessons to show children. In a ‘performance’ that will have you begging for Cyril Richard (who played the definitive Hook in the ’50s), Walken mumbled when he should have orated, shuffled when he should have danced, and merely was when he should have been acting. With an obvious moment when he forgot his lines and only the slightest bit of interest towards the end of the show, Walken’s blasé and lackluster performance was nothing less than an affront to the audience.

As a whole, Peter Pan Live! lacked some of the excitement and drama that Neverland promises to bring. In a dreamland created by the innocence and imagination of children, clans like the Lost Boys and pirates of the Jolly Roger had to work extra hard to support the leads and give the show back some missing energy. The production should have been cut down by 40 minutes at least, and Williams should have slapped Walken across the face and warned him not to ruin this for her. Still, if you made it to the end, you were rewarded by a beautiful appearance by Minnie Driver, who weirdly made everything okay.

After two years of commercially successful but artistically questionable live musical performances, will NBC decide to continue investing in this attempt to rekindle a cherished holiday tradition? We’re going to think happy thoughts and say yes, we hope so. But unlike Peter, audiences don’t forget, and a highly mocked performance could mean the end of TV spectacles like Peter Pan Live!

Watch the official trailer for the event here:

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Was ‘Peter Pan Live!’ a hit or should it stay in Neverland? Read more here!