December 07, 2014

Peter Pan Live! reviewed

NBC's mega-event production of Peter Pan Live! aired Sunday night. The reviews were mixed, to say the least.

Some people liked it:

Smooth Flight to Neverland, Mostly. Just Ask @tinkerbell.

'Peter Pan Live' review: Allison Williams-led production, broadcast from Long Island, nearly soars

Others, including me, didn't find much to like:

TV Review: NBC's 'Peter Pan' falls sadly flat

By Mark KennedyThis "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.

It suffered a draggy start, cursed by a "Downton Abbey" drawing room dialogue and a call for everyone to go to bed. It grew better in the colorful Neverland but veered into parody with a Captain Hook by Christopher Walken that seemed like a failed "Saturday Night Live" sketch about Johnny Depp. The whole thing lost steam by the second hour. Was anyone still trying to save Tinkerbell with 45 minutes to go?
The boggling mixed signals of “Peter Pan Live!”: Why on earth did NBC decide to do this show?

"Peter Pan" wasn't a technical disaster or a racist cringe-fest--but man, was it weird

By Sonia Saraiya
NBC’s production of this 1904 musical did nothing different, interesting or risky. (It might not even have been sung live! What was the point, NBC?) Aside from a few changes to Tiger Lily’s song to make it slightly less racist, “Peter Pan Live!” was “Peter Pan,” more or less intact. Which is mind-boggling. If Disney had produced this, audiences would be asking: Why is it so overwhelmingly white? Why wasn’t Tiger Lily’s role rethought or cut entirely?

And the most obvious response to all of this, naturally, is that “Peter Pan” isn’t meant for television, because it’s a play, and it’s not meant for modern audiences, because it was written in 1904. But then that leads to the most obvious question that struck me as I was watching last night: Why on earth would anyone make this show in 2014? As the fabulous and opinionated Tom and Lorenzo wrote this morning: “There’s a difference between ‘old-fashioned entertainment’ and ‘offensive minstrel shows’ and this falls somewhere in the middle.”

We live in a world where a feminist retelling of the book of Genesis is a bestselling book and an upcoming miniseries on Lifetime. Where children’s fables are being unpacked and retold to include more female and minority perspectives. The “Hunger Games” franchise and the Marvel and DC universes are engaging with complex, dystopian themes in their storytelling. We are not shrinking violets in our American living rooms, and neither are our children, and yet this version of “Peter Pan” is like a time capsule from 1904, unwilling to do anything to disturb the fragile social norms of a bunch of long-dead white Brits.
The 7 worst things about NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!”

Nearly two days later, we still can't quite believe what we just saw

By EJ Dickson
1) Cast someone who can actually pull off the role of Peter Pan.

The problem was that Williams simply doesn’t have the charisma to pull off the Boy Who Never Grew Up. She looked nice, and sounded nice, but as the A.V. Club’s Caroline Siede put it, “Williams feels like the girl who got every lead role in high school but couldn’t quite compete with stronger performers in college. She’s not bad, but she lacks the right impulsive, impish energy for Peter Pan.” Someone with more firecracker energy, like an Anna Kendrick or an Ellen Page, would’ve made for a much stronger Peter.

4) Replace or cut out the “Ugg-A-Wugg/True Blood Brothers” number.

The trouble is that no matter what you do to Tiger Lily and the “Ugg-A-Wugg” number, it’s still a song about Native peoples celebrating Peter Pan, their white male savior; replacing the “gibberish” Native American lyrics with equally gibberish nursery rhymes doesn’t necessarily make it any better. And because the number itself really isn’t that integral to the narrative or even very good to begin with, the smart choice would’ve been for NBC producers to cut it (as they did with the operatic “Mysterious Lady,” presumably due to Williams’ vocal limitations) or replace it with a new, equally rousing, more politically correct number.

7) Pick a better show.

Let’s be real: Peter Pan is not the best musical in the world. While it’s great for parents to turn on when they’re busy, so they can plop their kids in front of it and watch them zonk out for a few hours, the pacing is slow, the score subpar and poorly edited—I know we all love Christopher Walken, but do we really need at least three musical numbers for Captain Hook and his band of pirates?—and the libretto full of stodgy, regressive ideas about women and gender. Considered as a whole, I’d take a good production of Guys and Dolls, The Music Man, South Pacific or even Grease over Peter Pan any day.
A few people simply gawked at it:

Peter Pan Live on NBC: Reviewed

Hate-watching “Peter Pan Live!”: The funniest tweets during tonight’s NBC musical

Comment:  For more on Peter Pan, see A 21st-Century Peter Pan and Peter Pan's Racist History.

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