It is a given that the new NBC live Peter Pan which aired tonight will be compared to the original version, also NBC, in 1960. It starred Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard, Broadway veterans with powerful voices and sly, sarcastic delivery of humor. I loved it. Tonight, I really did sit down to watch with high hopes. I don't know Alison Williams at all, but I love Christopher Walken. I worried a bit about his laid-back style, but hoped he would step it up as the evil, hilarious Captain Hook. I hoped that the funniest bits were be left in and that it would not be ultra-modernized.
Christopher Walken's first appearance as Captain Hook, sans hat, reminded me of Fu Manchu. I love the guy, I really do, but his dry, quiet humor just doesn't fit this part at all. It needs flamboyance and high humor, which Cyril Ritchard gave it in the 1960 live TV version. A new (generic and forgettable) song for the initial pirate appearance was pretty flat, with Walken languishing in his chair looking a little stoned (which is pretty much what he always looks like ... it's part of his charm ... just not for Hook). He was funny at times, but all in all, his performance was not up to par.
|Cyril Ritchard (1960 live TV version)|
|Mary Martin (1960 live TV version)|
Alison Williams has a nice enough voice, but it is very thin and exudes very little emotion of any kind. She is rather flat in her performance, and there is no zap to her acting or singing. In every department, Mary Martin blew Williams out of the water. I thought she was a disappointment.
Wendy, Peter and Michael are .... well, just like all of the Wendys, Peters and Michaels in other versions. They and the Lost Boys were cute and did an adequate job.
I did notice a technical problem that was surprising, considering the first-class treatment of this show. During a couple of William's and Walken's songs, the orchestra was easier to hear than their singing. Chorales were no problem, but solo singers were not loud enough. Of course, Walken and Williams have similar voices -- too thin and without power. I also read on the internet a criticism that the flying gear looked just the same as it did 54 years ago. That didn't bother me -- how else can you do it on live TV without wires? It's not like a movie where they can hide such things.
I loved the pirates ... funny, wonderful dancers and singers. In contrast to the pirates' singing, Walken often sounded like he was whispering.
|Sondra Lee (1960 live TV version)|
In what I figured would be a controversial issue, Indian Queen Tiger Lily and her tribe were replaced by a gorgeous native Princess, played by Alanna Saunders, and her curiously naked-looking male tribe. The Princess has a feather on front of her forehead, where Tiger Lily had one on the back of her head. The Princess also has a better designer. The new look is apparently considered more respectful -- the credits showed a Native American consultant, so I guess he knows. However, I don't think a real native Princess would have access to shiny, metallic fabric made into a dress with only straps covering important places. The original song, "Ugg uh Wugg", was cut out for modern sensitivities, but it was lots of fun. I've always remembered how the dancers positioned themselves in a V and leaned from side to side until you were sure they were going to fall over. The replacement song is tepid and not likely to be something you will hum or remember the lyrics. The original Tiger Lily herself, Sondra Lee, gave an interview about this new version of Peter Pan. She wishes them luck; however:
"Lee says that while she won't be watching the new version, she's read about it -- and she's not happy the producers have cut Tiger Lily's big song "Ugg-a-Wugg." It's been replaced by "True Blood Brothers," a new song ... whose composer consulted Native Americans to make sure the song is more authentic than, say, the Land O'Lakes Lady. Lee thinks that's silly. "There was no such thing as political correctness when we did the show. The song is about word games, and kids play word games all the time ... People come up to me all the time and say "Ugg-a-Wugg"! They love it. If you have a classic, don't mess with it..."
I enjoy writing about movies I love more than movies I don't like, so I'll never be a true critic. But, in this case, I think a wonderful musical was not given the proper cast or new treatment, and that's a shame.