Thursday, December 11, 2014
Peter Pan Live! on NBC Savaged by Those Who Wished to Savage it, and Many Did -- Ratings 50% Below Sound of Music
Warning: If you are Peter Pan fan, please go no further. It is not my intent to rattle your dreams of flight – at the end of a long rope.
I nearly slept through the first Peter Pan, decades ago when NBC presented the original Broadway version live. All I remember was Marty Martin flying over a stage attached to a long wire, singing some songs that sounded more like songs made for TV than for hit Broadway shows, and this funny man, Cyril Richard, making me laugh. Lots of pirates running around the stage, but, somehow, the whole thing never hooked me. I sat there trying to feel attached to a story -- if only I could find a story.
When Mary Martin flew, yes, the show on TV truly took glorious flight. Back down on the stage, it looked and sounded like a second rate musical made for television.
Thus, I grew up Peter Pan-averse, unable to catch the spirit of flight when endless touring productions of the show flew in and out of town – even when my late friend Mike, a Peter Pan nut, managed to pin me down into a seat before the show by announcing on my birthday – Surprise! – that he had purchased two tickets to the show and ONE was for me. The venue was in San Francisco, where Peter Pan, adapted for the stage, first flew. On Broadway, it only flew a total of 149 times – by today’s standards, a full scale fiasco. But Peter Pan on TV and on National Tours would not be the first Broadway turkey to enjoy a successful post-New York career.
Sitting next to Peter Pan advocate Mike, I managed to put on – force would be more like it — a happy Peter Pan face, faking it all the way. All the while, praying for the final curtain to fall. Maybe by then, I was just to stubborn to give the show a chance. My brother Dick is a great Pan fan. You see, they are all around us. Maybe I should try facing the show with him.
So, yes, I was more than ready to be tickled by a barrage of nasty anti-Peter Pan reviews, over NBC’s recent Peter Pan Live!, a followup to last year’s NBC Sound of Music. The show starred Allison Williams, daughter of the network's newscaster, Brian (a mere conincidence, I imagine), and Chritsoper Walken, seen above. Viewership, half of that for last year's Sound of Music, was still considered a big success. On balance, critical reception favored Peter Pan over last year's more even ill-remembered Sound of Music. This Pan was panned by many.
I only watched a few minutes of the show, deciding I would rather rent it from Netflix than sit through a three-hour commercial-intense ordeal. When I tuned in, Williams was finely at work on a song, and her winning voice did engage me.
Critics, you're on!
Associated Press: Peter Pan needed a lot more fairy dust. NBC's live telling of J.M. Barrie's classic tale Thursday was an oddly ponderous, disconnected, disjointed and jerky mess. If it had been a Broadway show, it would have gotten the hook (pun intended).
It wasn't the small things that broke the spell. Ungraceful wire work, clunky transitions, a Tinkerbell that was as annoying as a mosquito and sounded like a wind chime, a tea cup that fell from Peter's head and some technical glitches. "Peter Pan Live!" simply never flew.
Variety: A woefully lifeless production that, the fancy wiring notwithstanding, never quite got off the ground. (And neither did your boring review, Variety)
Huffington Post: ... it became monotonous. Many of my friends with kids said their little ones lost interest halfway through ...Then I went back and watched Martin's version and no contest, the latter still shines like a new penny and holds you captivated in its magical spell.
Morning After: a three-hour college musical theater show whose dullness was punctuated with impressive gayness.
Los Angeles Times theatre critic Charles McNulty, tweeting:
Tweet: With “The Sound of Music,” NBC seemed to be employing a strategy of saving the American musical by killing it.
Tweet: With Peter Pan, I think the plan is to save the American musical by etherizing it.
Tweet: I think this experiment in live musical theater may just prove that the age of enforced commercial viewing is over.
Given my Peter Pan atheism, for you whom I may have offended, here, from the New York Times, a gift to restore your faith:
New York Times: Peter Pan Live! was a loving, lavish tribute to a beloved musical that offered a new generation of children a chance to use their smartphones to keep Tinkerbell alive. (Peter asked children to clap, but an NBC crawl urged them to also tweet.)
It was a cautious, please-all production, but it took guts to do it.
What next, NBC Live? Here are some ideas:
Annie Live! -- perfect for your target audience, and a great show
Sweeney Todd Live! (take it to your critics, and dare them to dis this one)
Oklahoma Live! -- hard to imagine your messing up this indestructible classic, but what a challenge to try.
Sunday in the Park with George Live! -- If you can bring this Stephen Sondheim yawner to life, that would mark a first for the show, and a public service award for you.