Friday, December 12, 2014

"A Belated 'Peter Pan - Live' Reaction"

“Peter Pan is the sun and the moon and the stars!”

Tiger Lily.

For me, Peter Pan, the musical, was always the sun and the moon and the stars.  Memorable, magical and miraculous.

It was almost embarrassing how much I looked forward to the latest televised production, performed live (although probably not in California) on Thursday December the 4th, between eight and eleven P.M.  I was virtually tingling with anticipation, an embarrassing confession for a person of my mature vintage.

Bottom Line For People In a Hurry:  Oh boy, was I disappointed. 

(Note:  The following stab at critical coherency is not a review but instead something more personal and emotional, though I will try my best to keep it from deteriorating into agonized blubbering.  If I can.)

Set aside the fact that I have in the past sat entranced by the numerous rebroadcasts (and probably the original broadcast as well) of Peter Pan, starring Mary Martin, highlighted, for me, by her immortalizing, mischievious giggle.

Ignore also that the first “Senior Show” I was able to participate in at Camp Ogama was a staged rendition of Peter Pan in which I played Captain Hook’s right-hand man “Smee” in what I was later assured had been a scene-stealing tour de force.

It is difficult to be totally objective concerning the production of a show in which, on a number of levels, you have identifiable “skin in the game”, the most significant level being the show’s increasingly, with the advancing years, resonating message, delivered unambiguously in the song “Neverland”:

“You’ll have a treasure if you stay there
More precious far than gold
For once you have found your way there…

(Here it comes)

You can never…never grow old…”

That one never fails to hit the bullseye.  And how much more so when I have.

I understand that with each succeeding incarnation of a classic piece of material, the latest participants feel an irresistible impulse to put their own inimitable stamp on the proceedings.  When you’re an artist, they feel compelled to creatively move the ball forward.   A new look.  A fresh coat of paint.  A re-imagined approach.  To say the same thing four different ways.  Nobody – he explained, diving redundantly into a fifth way – wants to rotely follow the dance steps painted on the floor by some venerable predecessor.  It’s the 21st Century.  Peter Pan requires an updating makeover.  (My sixth and final analogy.)

The conceptual rethinking of this latest Peter Pan?

A self-referential Post-Modernism.        

Forget the fake “menace.”  Nobody watching a kids’ show after most kids have already gone to bed believes the pirates are actually scary.  So cast a “Hook” who takes the proceedings less (a lot less) seriously, diluting his dastardliness, most egregiously in his proclamatory “Hook’s Lament”, where this “Hook” disinterestedly mumbles,

“Who’s the swiniest swine in the world?”

(Chorus:  “Captain Hook!”  Captain Hook!”) 

“Who’s the dirtiest dog in this wonderful world?”

(Chorus:  “Captain Hook!  Captain Hook!”)

“Captain of villainy, murder and loot
Eager to kill any who says that his hook isn’t cute!”

At which point, the actor playing my part, rather than cowering in terror, instead, matching his captain’s disinterest, throws away his response with an understated,

“It’s cute.”

I killed with that line!  And this smarty-pants actor tosses it off with a shrug!

I know, sorry.  I’m comparing, which I should not do.  But while I am, the most recent Peter Pan”, well, for direction, the actress really needed to listen to her own songs, specifically, “I Won’t Grow Up.” 


“I won’t grow up
I don’t want to wear a tie
Or a serious expression
In the middle of July.”


“And Neverland will always be
The home of youth and joy and liberty.”

The woman delivered a capable performance.  But not a single ounce of “joy.”  And that “serious expression” she promised never to display – that is all she displayed through the three hours of the production.  Even (a former “Peter”) Sandy Duncan tried out a mischievious giggle.  Cathy Rigby (another “Peter”) took a shot at it too.  But not this time.  This rendition was too cool for irrepressibility. 

And there goes “youth.” 

I could go on concerning the two melodies lifted from another musical (“Do-Re-Me”) whose un-childlike rhythms were stylistically incompatible with the original score, the inexplicable casting of adults in the “Lost Boys” roles, and the conscious efforts at political correctness in which the pirates’ “Yo-ho” anthem that originally included the admittedly horrific

“We massacre Indians, kill little boys…”

was transformed into

“We mess with the Natives and kill little boys…”

indicating that the “Indian” lobby is demonstrably more powerful than the “little boys” lobby.

But my overall disenchantment trumps any selective nitpicking.  The two moments that continued to be effective were sequences that were, significantly, left untouched by the revisionism:  Peter’s (in this production too rushed but still successful) appeal to the audience to clap if they believe in fairies, and Peter’s returning at the end to invite (now grown up) Wendy’s daughter Jane back to Neverland for spring cleaning.

Responding to Peter’s plea to save Tinkerbell’s life, I thumped by hand on my chest so loudly, I almost woke up my adjacently sleeping wife.  And when Jane pleaded with her mother to allow her to fly away with Peter… wait, is somebody chopping onions?

The most recent Peter Pan, it seemed to me, tried hard to be “smarter than the aver-age bear.”  And perhaps, for some people, it succeeded.  The L.A. Times reviewer saw Christopher Walken’s self-mocking “Hook” performance as a breath of much-needed fresh air. 

To me, the price for being “smarter than the aver-age bear” is enchantment.

I believe in enchantment.

The problem for me was that Peter Pan – Live did not.


Pidge said...

"The Uses of Enchantment"
You make excellent points throughout this commentary. There was just no 'fun' in this production. I, too, loved this story as a child, enjoyed the Mary Martin/Cyril Richard version for its delight and whimsy, both qualities entirely absent in this weird rendition.
You must have made a terrific 'Smee, Mr. Pomerantz (just as you would have made a sensational Cowardly Lion, if it weren't for some Latin teachers and a teacher's pet named Urjo). You would have been a most worthy 'right-hand man' to your buddy Alan's well-received interpretation of Captain Hook in the Staff Show at Camp White Pine in 1968, when he craftily strode the outdoor stage replete in long pirate coat with lace sleeves and a formidable 'Arrrrgh-hook', beckoning his crew of assorted trippers and swim staff, "To the ship! To the ship", while they scattered to the winds.
Was there ever a more enchanting Tinkerbell than Jack Newman? All 6' of him, dressed in a tutu and fairy wings, lifting up the camper who played Peter Pan and 'flying' her across the stage while she belted out "I'm flying"? Everyone gasped at this awesome levitation.
As the capable assistant to the Director (later, his wife) I remember spending a summer afternoon pecking the lyrics to all the songs on dittos on his typewriter. That ditty, "Ugh-a-bug, ugh-a-bug, ugh-a-bug, ugh-a-bug, Wah!" still haunts my dreams. Not in a good way.
The audience of campers and staff were exhausted with laughter by the end of the show. There was something very magical about setting it at the edge of the forest, at dusk, too.
There was nothing magical about this TV version. Not the stiff and awkward flying poses, the frozen pisk of the 'hero', the lackluster Tink or, especially, the disinterested Captain Hook! The only person having fun in that show was the kid playing Michael. He made the others look like amateurs. There was a sense that they all just wanted to get it over with. As did I.
I couldn't watch the whole thing..I PVR'd and zipped through to the musical numbers, the acting was so wooden I had no patience. .
I felt like a parent forced to watch a lousy school production that my kid had a tiny part in. Only, as a former teacher, I can assure you, our school shows were far more entertaining than this was.
I bet your camp shows were better, too.

Canda said...

Bingo, Earl. No enchantment, and worse yet for Captain Hook, no comedy. It's supposed to be fun. Cyril Richard was over-the-top. Christopher Walken was below-the-bottom in energy, fun, verve, style, and diction.

The LA Times critic must be a pompous ass.

Allison Williams forced perkiness was no match for Mary Martin's joy and exuberance.

The repeat on NBC Friday night had abysmal ratings, which were well deserved.