December 4, 2014



Tonight’s PETER PAN LIVE proved that NBC, and producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, had learned some valuable lessons from last year’s successful but often painful production of The Sound of Music.  Chief among them was that it’s a better idea to anchor your show with an actress who can sing (and sing showtunes) than with a country/pop performer with little acting experience.  Allison Williams made a fine, appealing Peter, with an accent more on boyish earnestness–she turned the drippy song “When I Went Home” into a highlight–than rambunctiousness (although she did well by “I Won’t Grow Up”), and she hit the flying, of which there was enough to make cast members of the Spider-Man musical feel nervous, out of the park.  Williams even pulled off the extremely tricky business of delivering the “clap if you believe in fairies” bit directly to camera without a live audience to applaud around her (even if NBC cheapened the moment by flashing on-screen instructions to tweet #savetinkerbell, an alternative Peter didn’t seem to know about).

This was a far more visually ambitious production than Sound of Music, and once it became clear that there wasn’t going to be much effort made to hide those flying wires, the glitches were very few:  an errant piece of TV lighting briefly on screen, a crew member’s voice shouting “Clear!” after a number was over, a few abrupt cuts to commercial or between scenes.  Production director Rob Ashford and TV director Glenn Weiss did an accomplished job of maneuvering between the many sets, a largely young cast, a digital Tinker Bell, the flying, and a live and very well-trained dog in the role of Nana, usually played by an actor in a dog suit.

That’s not to say Pan Live could be called a triumph.  The show itself, for one thing, is an extremely creaky piece of work, despite a TV script by experienced Disney writer Irene Mecchi, rudimentary in its plotting and sentiment, and made all the worse by NBC’s committing to fill 3 hours of airtime with it, which didn’t allow for much in the way of what would have been merciful editing.  The musical has always been something of a cut-and-paste job, with a score originally by Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh that was supplemented with more songs by Jule Styne and Betty Comden and Adolph Green (with more songs by that group, some taken as scraps from others of their shows, added over the years).  This version had still more new lyrics contributed by Adolph Green’s daughter Amanda Green, including one that seemed designed to make adult viewers think about the modern “Peter Pan Syndrome” concept as Wendy sang about her unreciprocated feelings for Peter.  It took 35 very long minutes alone for Peter Pan to even get out of the Darling family bedroom, and the middle hour, which featured far too much of Ashford’s fairly routine choreography, as well as the problematic Indian tribe song “True Blood Brothers,” seemed to last forever.

Then there was Christopher Walken as Captain Hook.  Heavily made up, he barely even pretended to try singing, and although the producers had promised a dancing Hook–and there was a time when Walken was a dazzling hoofer (stream Pennies From Heaven)–the 71-year old performer couldn’t manage much more than some attitude and a few soft-shoe moves.  By the final hour, when he reached the “Hook’s Waltz” signature number, Walken was for all intents and purposes doing an SNL Walken impersonation bit, turning Hook into what sounded like a Jersey gangster.  This was all fun, in a weird way, and it gave the show the spontaneous feeling that he might do just about anything, but it didn’t exactly establish dramatic or even comic credibility.

All in all, though, it was a creditable evening.  Taylor Louderman had a sweet voice as the ingenue Wendy, Alanna Saunders brought enthusiasm to Tiger Lily, the genuine Broadway star Kelli O’Hara had a few lovely moments as Mrs. Darling (NBC’s go-to musical guy Christian Borle, a Peter Pan veteran with a Tony for the far more adventurous Pan play “Peter and the Starcatcher,” was very broad as both Mr. Darling and Smee), Minnie Driver made the most of her epilogue scene as the grown-up Wendy, and the children were only moderately unbearable.

Assuming tonight’s ratings hold up, NBC will certainly continue to present these yearly musicals for at least as long as Robert Greenblatt (himself a producer of last year’s Tony-winning “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”) is Entertainment President there.  At least the network seems to be getting the hang of them.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."