Peter Pan - Live - Review - "Faith and Trust, But Where's the Pixie Dust?"
Pixie Dust or Asbestos?
My reaction to last night's Peter Pan - Live felt more like a flame being extinguished than a dream taking flight. I had hoped that lessons had been learned from last year's stodgy The Sound of Music - Live and that everyone involved would come up with a livelier, more "musical" product. I wanted to love this new incarnation of Peter Pan, and seemingly I should have. All the pieces were in place for what I hoped would be an airborne, breezy evening. Alas, dear folks, the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts, and Peter Pan - Live was neither cohesive or exciting. It was merely adequate and that is probably the most disappointing part of all.
Many people out there get upset with theatre critics and audience snark, and as a critic myself, I defend all of our opinions as part of the theatrical process. Theatre is not created in a vacuum. For theatre to work, a contract is made with the audience. We pay for a ticket and give you our time, and you entertain, teach and/or transport us in return. We make our investments, too, and you cannot only include the audience when it is convenient. There is always the chance we are not going to like a piece, but I assure you that we all want to love it. I do not think that there isn't one person who turned on Peter Pan last night who, if the production had been truly amazing, would not have sung its praises from the rooftops. It just simply was not rooftop singing material.
Let me start out by pointing out what I feel was right about this live production. The physical production was exquisite. From the gorgeous model of London that led to the Darling's window, to the whimsical Jolly Roger, to the iridescent, joyous playground of Neverland, the scenery kept the production visually compelling and in the right spirit of the piece. The first ten-minutes of the show were given brushstrokes of class from Kelli O'Hara, who executed a heavenly "Tender Shepherd" and who provided the only sincerity in an otherwise saccharine evening of entertainment. Christian Borle, who is always wonderful, made for a somewhat one-dimensional Father, but packed a lot of humor in his portrayal of Smee, Captain Hook's sidekick.
Allison Williams, playing the titular role, had a fine if forgettable voice, but there seemed to be no dimension to her Peter Pan. In fact, in many ways it felt as though she was acting by herself and was never a part of what was going on. Instead of bringing boyish charm and childish curiosity to the proceedings, an icy pall was cast by her presence. This was not a Peter Pan who could convince me to run away to Neverland for adventure. This Peter Pan should work for the DMV.
Christopher Walken seemed like a delicious choice to play Captain James Hook, the dandy of a pirate captain with a flair for the melodramatic. Why then, did every joke fall flat and Walken seem lost or confused throughout? In fact, it seems as though no thought was given to character interpretation and that the director and/or actor decided that we should just be happy to have Walken and that should be enough. It was not. Hook is the best role in Peter Pan and to see Walken phoning it in breaks my heart, especially when I think what someone like Borle, or perhaps John Lithgow could have done with it. You can forgive a lot of things in a production of Peter Pan, but a Hook who doesn't revel in the sassy fabulousness of his character is not one of them.
For those who like watching beautiful twinks running around in tight prep school uniforms, flexing their butt cheeks and pretending to be eight years old, then this, my friends, is your kind of show. Such a talented bunch of singers and dancers, all quite handsome, made to look like utter buffoons. I cannot even begin to understand the kind of thinking of a person that reads Peter Pan and decides that THIS is what James Barrie intended for his Lost Boys. It certainly made Allison Williams appear more masculine by comparison, but watching them was exhausting and made me wonder what Tommy Tune is up to these days.
The Native American problem has supposedly been solved by interpolating real Native American phrases into the politically incorrect gem "Ugg-a-Wugg." These changes didn't bother me. What did bother me was that everyone in the Native American chorus all looked like they had been rented from the Maui Hyatt Regency Luau Floor Show. The fact they these characters are treated as peripheral and not given much of interest to say does little to change the stereotype perception. The change in lyrics and the new Don Ho approach seem to magnify it, rather than put it to rest.
Peter Pan - Live simply did NOT ignite for me. I wanted to believe, but no matter how much hand clapping we all did to save Tinkerbell, there wasn't a round of applause big enough to save this production. Pixie Dust must be applied liberally, but also in the right places. As the audience, we'll provide the faith, but please don't take advantage of our trust. We cannot be expected to come back, year after year, hoping that one of these live musicals will take flight.