“Off to Neverland!” Peter Pan Live! aired on NBC last Thursday (12/04/2014) and left viewers thinking happy thoughts.
Ten points for sets. The Darling house was vibrant and charming. Outside the famous nursery window lay foggy London, complete with small houses creating the illusion the nursery was a second story room. When Peter and the Darling children flew over London, those short rooftops made the children appear to be high in the starry sky.
Equally impressive was NBC’s take on Neverland. The ground of the adventure-crammed island was a painted map. Island features included colorful flowers, bulky mushrooms, and greenery. While a far cry from the setting of Barrie’s original stage play, the home under the ground had the chaotic feel you’d expect from a lair of motherless boys.
If any happy thought could lift you into the air, it would be a thought of Allison Williams (Peter). Her performance was spot-on—animated yet believable. Each facial expression seemed genuine, not to mention her stellar singing voice.
In Disney’s film adaptation and the live action film featuring Jeremy Sumpter, Mr. Darling and Captain Hook are played (or voiced) by the same actor. I believe that’s traditional. NBC tried something new. Christian Borle doubled as Smee and Mr. Darling. He and Kelli O’Hara (Mrs. Darling) made a perfect couple.
As for Wendy and the lost boys? They didn’t look like kids. Taylor Louderman (Wendy) and the lost boys were clearly teenagers. Worse, the lost boys were teenagers donning real clothes. Shouldn't they have worn leafy clothing or animal skins?
Most disappointing was Christopher Walken's Hook. Barrie’s play and novel portrayed Hook as a fierce villain, a worthy opponent to Peter Pan. Though an established actor, Walken lacked the cool fierceness that makes Hook memorable.
Overall, the musical was a faithful adaptation, though certain musical numbers seemed jarring (caution: if you watched the program, “I’m Flying” might be flying around in your head for several days). While I don’t remember the Mary Martin musical, Disney’s classic film proves songs can coordinate with, rather than disrupt, the plot. If you’re familiar with the musical, the numbers may have felt more natural.
Like most adaptations, NBC failed to fully capture the conflict Peter’s eternal youth creates for Wendy. Their challenging relationship and reluctant parting set Peter Pan apart from other “children’s stories.” Of course, Barrie’s original works best convey Peter’s complexity and Wendy’s confusion.
NBC did hold onto the most famous scene in Barrie’s play: Tinker Bell’s near death, prevented by the clapping of believing children. Like Barrie’s first audience, I clapped. My husband (after a nudge) clapped too.