Confession time: no matter how many times the story of Peter Pan is retold, I am excited. I have never been let down by any version I’ve seen/read/listened to of this story; so even though the newest production is a follow-up to last year’s awkwardly successful Sound of Music Live on NBC, I’m going in optimistic. Add to that today’s announcement regarding Wendy and Tiger Lily’s casting, and my optimism just multiplies.
Peter Pan Live
Sound of Music relied a little too heavily on the star power of Carrie Underwood–and while Underwood may be the only country artist I’ll listen to willingly, a Broadway-trained actor she is not. Peter Pan’s headlining star is Allison Williams, who earned her mainstream fame on Lena Dunham’s television show Girls. Although she is best known for her acting, Williams also sang in the film College Musical, and sings often on Girls.
But the real excitement for me lies in the fact that Wendy and Tiger Lily hail exclusively from the stage, while the rest of the confirmed cast has varying levels of Broadway experience in addition to their work in front of a camera. Taylor Louderman, the choice for Wendy, starred as Campbell in Broadway’s Bring it On: The Musical, and at Papermill Playhouse in Grease. Alanna Saunders will play Tiger Lily. Her past stage credits include Gypsy and A Chorus Line. Saunders was a particularly interesting choice when compared to the upcoming film versions casting of Rooney Mara. While Mara, best known for her role in The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo, is a white American with Irish, German, French-Canadian and Italian ancestry, Saunders is of Cherokee descent. When Mara was announced as the choice for the film, massive backlash occurred online due to the whitewashing of the already problematic role Tiger Lily plays in some versions of the Peter Pan story. An official petition was created for Warner Brothers to recast the role, but the studio responded by defending their decision.
Other confirmed cast members include Christian Borle as Mr.Darling/Smee and Kelli O’Hara as Mrs. Darling. Borle took part in last year’s Live event, playing the part of Max Detweiler. His casting, however, is interesting for an entirely different reason: Mr. Darling is traditionally double-cast as Captain Hook, not Smee. Christopher Walken will only perform as the good Captain himself–the reason behind the break from this centuries-old casting choice is unclear for now. In my opinion, both Walken and Borle are pretty amazing at what they do–in fact Borle was one of the few reasons to keep watching the short lived Smash, NBC’s grown-up answer to Glee, though the former only lasted two seasons.
The Sound of Music Live suffered from shallow sets, strange acting choices, a jittery star, and a criminally underused Audra McDonald–one of modern Broadway’s strongest performers, who only showed up as Mother Superior in a handful of short scenes. Social media sites exploded with critical feedback in real-time throughout. Regardless, the broadcast was nominated for several Emmy awards for direction, and musical direction, among others, and won for outstanding technical direction, camerawork, and video control for a miniseries, movie, or special. It was also one of NBC’s best viewed programs since the 2007 Golden Globes and the 2004 series finale of Frasier. ABC’s annual broadcast of the film version of The Sound of Music had it’s highest ratings since 2007 following last year’s Live production, with 6.5 million viewers.
According to NBC’s Bob Greenblatt, the network fully intends to make Live an annual holiday event. Greenblatt reported that, following The Sound of Music Live, his office received specific requests by phone and email from theatre rightsholders for similar adaptations of a variety of “family-friendly” shows. NBC Live’s presentation of Peter Pan Live will air December 4th from 8:00 to 10:00pm EST