Monday, December 8, 2014

Douglas Messerli | "Walkin' the Plank" (on Peter Pan Live!)


walkin’ the plank
By Douglas Messerli

Irene Mecchi (teleplay, based on the play by J. M. Barrie), Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green (lyrics, with additional lyrics by Amanda Green), Moose Charlap and Jule Styne (music) Peter Pan Live! / on N.B.C. (the National Broadcasting Company), December 4, 2014

Last night I sat through the entire three hours of slickly-conceived advertisements punctuated with brief scenes from the ongoing and ongoing musical Peter Pan flashed in between. It’s cruel, I suspect, to attempt to redact a review of a television musical hiding out in the morass of Christmas jingles rung out to encourage its audience ring-up a big profit for the impresarios of this fragile fairy-tale, but it’s what I pay myself to do!

        From what I can remember arising out of that fog of blurry commercial daydreams was a very pleasant group of young men and women—pretending to be at least two decades younger than the dates on their driving licenses—eagerly trying to engage any audience they might have imagined as having tuned in. I can’t believe that many children actually lasted it out until 11:00. And I gather from the media reports that a great part of this work’s supposed observers fell away as the hours ticked along with Captain Hook’s vengeful croc.

     Alas, if even I couldn’t believe, I suspect poor Tinkerbell did not truly survive. It’s hard to get a T.V. cam to clap along, let alone to believe in the goings on it was so faithfully recording. Let me begin by simply asserting that everyone in Neverland (and even those back home nursing Nana) are obviously talented folk, with nice personalities, good looks, and very pleasant voices. The former school boys and Indian bucks could even dance—quite marvelously at moments!  

   Allison Williams has a very lovely voice which pertly warbled out Pan’s standards, “I’ll Never Grow Up” and “I Gotta Crow.” And Taylor Louderman as Wendy sweetly sang her brothers and all the lost boys to sleep. I am sure that, if she is already a mother, she is a very nice one, or if she isn’t a mother, she someday will become what the character so passionately longed to be.

     Everyone flew off quite expertly, without a single one of their body ropes twisting up!
     For all that, I could not even have imagined a more pallid production of a musical that depends almost entirely on its characters’ physical presence. Pan was never a very great example of the Broadway musical, but Mary Martin, who, back in the black-and-white days, seemed able to convince everyone of anything she wanted to, certainly crowed out tunes with such a committed tunefulness that you might certainly be convinced that she could climb every mountain (in case you’ve forgotten, as the star of the stage version of The Sound of Music, she beat Julie Andrews to the top!) None of the actors in this lackluster mis-adventure seemed to be able to even convince themselves that they might be able to accomplish anything but to show up back in Wendy’s nursery, hoping to be adopted in the end.

    I kept praying for an over-the-top, campy, slightly naughty rendition of the near-pedophilic Captain (with "a hook on each boy and a boy on each hook”) by Christopher Walken. Sadly he was unable to show up for his performance. The ghost of the actor who appeared seemed to be doing just that, “walkin’” through what should have been at least quick shuffle, or, at best, a wry-little tap—even if he couldn’t quite get it up to tango or turn in a proper tarantella. As Mary McNamara put it, his performance might have been camp, “if camp weren’t soooo exhausting.” As it was, the usually enchanting actor appeared to on barbiturates—despite the fact that his pirate friends did everything they could to help him to revive. Christian Borle (as Smee) should get a reward just for reminding Walken, from time to time, that he was supposed to be onstage. Even the crucial third act battle between Pan and boys against the pirates seemed to be the actions of stumbling somnambulists. Hook predictably falls even while attempting to walk the plank. Is it any wonder that everyone but Peter Pan is desperate to go home again?
     At home, at least, sits the beautiful Kelli O’Hara, beautifully singing her heart out—a real Broadway star praying that the kids might soon come home so she could blow out the lights and kiss us all goodnight!

Los Angeles, December 6, 2014

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