Wednesday, July 30, 2014

She's Your New Peter Pan

She's in the cast of Girls on HBO.  Now she's been cast as a famous fantasy boy for NBC.  Allison Williams hooked the starring role in the upcoming live NBC telecast of the musical Peter Pan.  We wish her the absolute best of luck as she handles Peter.  Congratulations, Allison!
It's sort of a family affair for the network.  She's the daughter of NBC news anchor, Brian Williams.  The network had such an enormous ratings success with its live production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's The Sound of Music that it quickly -- and wisely -- decided to go live with another beloved Broadway hit from its theatrical golden age.  This will be the network's second live telecast of musical that starred Mary Martin.  She originated the role of Maria on Broadway in The Sound of Music.  She played Peter Pan on Broadway and, fortunately for us, recreated that performance for NBC.

I loved that TV special.  It was so warm, so touching, so much fun and very well-acted.  Back when I was a kid,  Mary Martin's Peter Pan got an annual special NBC airing -- the same way 1939's The Wizard of Oz did on CBS.  Mary Martin, with that lilting voice of hers, just had the right spirit and spunk to play Peter Pan on TV even though she was about 40 when she did.  Mary Martin had star magic in that NBC special.

The Wizard of Oz continued to get annual special broadcasts for quite a few more years, but NBC's Peter Pan didn't.  It's now available on DVD.

In 1976, NBC gave us another Peter Pan.  Mia Farrow played Peter almost ten years after she gave moviegoers chills as the horrified mother in Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.  Danny Kaye co-starred as Captain Hook.
I can only recall having seen Peter Pan portrayed by a male in three full-length features.  The first one is my favorite -- the classic Disney version with the animated Peter.  I'm a sucker for any full-length feature that has bloodthirsty pirates wearing pastels.



Robin Williams showed us an older and hairier Peter in 1991's Hook directed by Steven Spielberg.  Dustin Hoffman played Captain Hook.  Julia Roberts starred as Tinkerbell.
                               

The next one was the wonderful 2003 film version with Jeremy Sumpter as Peter Pan and Jason Isaacs as Captain Hook.  This is an excellent DVD rental for kids.


Out of curiosity, I asked Twitter readers why Peter Pan is always played by women on network TV and not by a male.

The first response I got was "Traditionally always played by a woman on the stage..."

Yes.  I know.  But I wrote on network TV.  That's different.  Traditionally, Maria in The Sound of Music was always played by actresses on the stage.  On network TV, however, she was played by Carrie Underwood.

The next response was:  "Peter Pan is a boy who won't grow up.  If played by a male, it would either have to be a prepubescent kid or a castrato."

OK.  So...he'll now be played by actress Allison Williams.

Wow.  Wait till the Lost Boys get a load o' that in the forest.  Oak, spruce, birch and morningwood.

For many years, I just assumed that Peter Pan was played by females on TV and on the stage because adult females usually weigh less that adult males and would be easier to lift for the show's special effects.  Think of movie musicals.  It would've been easier for Gene Kelly to lift Debbie Reynolds than it would've been for her to lift him.
But technology has advanced and changed since Mary Martin flew in as Peter Pan the 1950s.  Also, our society has advanced and changed.  When NBC viewers first saw Martin as Peter Pan in the 1950s, the thoughts of an American walking on the moon, an African-American being elected President of the United States and millions of Americans being able to take photographs with their cellphones were impossible dreams.  That all became a reality.  It's now part of our 21st Century history.

With that in mind, would viewers embrace a male Peter?  If NBC had done another version of Peter Pan in the late 1980s starring Michael Jackson at the peak of his Thriller fame, that could've been a ratings blockbuster.  Think about it.  Michael Jackson was the boy who wouldn't grow up.  He named his ranch "Neverland."

Michael's father, Joe Jackson, would've been perfect to play Captain Hook.

I answered the "castrato" tweet with this:  "Would network TV execs cast someone like, say, Jaden Smith?"

The reply was:  "Who is Jaden Smith?"

I mentioned Jaden and his upcoming film role in my previous blog post, "Jazz Man Has The Write Stuff."  He'll star in the film adaptation of a National Book Award winner.
Jaden Smith as Peter Pan could've also been a family affair for NBC considering that his dad, Will Smith, starred in NBC's hit sitcom, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.  Jaden got big national attention acting opposite his father (and doing a mighty fine job) in the dramatic film, The Pursuit of Happyness, a film that earned Will Smith an Oscar nomination for Best Actor of 2006.

Jaden went to co-star with Jackie Chan in a remake of The Karate Kid.

What do you think?  Would a modern TV audience be ready for a different kind of Peter?  In New York City where hundreds of good young actors auditioned for Broadway musicals like Spring Awakening and Billy Elliott, I bet a network would have no problem finding talented young male candidates to fly through the air and sing "I Won't Grow Up" like middle-aged Broadway legend Mary Martin did in the 1950s.

Allison Williams of HBO's Girls will play Peter Pan in NBC's special live telecast on December 4th.

I think Girls creator and star Lena Dunham should join Allison in the Peter Pan cast.  And Dunham should play Smee.

Just an idea for something different.







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