This weeks streaming title in the weekly 'The Shows Must Go On' series was Peter Pan Live! Following the last two amazing titles of Hairspray and The Wiz was always going to be a tough act to follow, so how did this fare? Brace yourselves...
Let's start with the basics. Everybody knows the story of Peter Pan - a boy who never grows up (sounds like some of our Members of Parliament at the moment) who is friends with a fairy and fights a pirate. Standard stuff, right? The story has inspired several musicals including Finding Neverland (Bring it to the West End!) and even Bat Out Of Hell is loosely based on the story. This version is based on J.M.Barrie's 1904 play, this musical by Moose Charlap and Jule Styne first landed on Broadway in 1954. It hasn't seen many revivals since but is wheeled out for television adaptations every now and then. This version was made for NBC as part of their annual live musicals in 2014.
The cast features Girls star Alison Williams as the titular Peter Pan - that might seem like an odd choice at first, but the role has historically always been played by a woman. Broadway royalty Kelli O'Hara and Christian Borle add some authenticity to the cast... and then there's Hollywood legend Christopher Walken.
Williams' is perfectly fine as Peter Pan - not one of the greatest performances you'll ever see but far from the worst (in this show alone). Borle plays to his strengths in not one but two roles as Captain Hooks right hand (literally) man Mr Smee and as Wendy's stiff upper lipped father George Darling. Whenever he is on screen, he pulls focus making sure all eyes are on him and is one of the best things in this adaptation. Kelli O'Hara is always delightful - however she is dealt a small role with very little screen time in this. When she is on screen she is mesmerising - it's just a shame she has nothing more to do. Surely they could have also given her a dual role, like Borle? The cast also features Taylor Louderman, who has recently been on Broadway in Mean Girls, as Wendy, and Minnie Driver as the grown up Wendy. The rest of the supporting cast are perfectly fine in their roles. One of the kids is a bit clumsy and misses some of his footing at times, but you can forgive most mistakes in live theatre... and then there's Christopher Walken. I'll talk more about him later.
Compared to some of the other NBC musicals, this really doesn't compete. The sets looked very cheap and wobbled more than a terrified jelly. It ended up looking more like a poor touring production of a show rather than a big budget Network TV spectacular. It could have at least compromised and resembled a Broadway show! Then there were the awful and laughable special effects. Yes, I know people can't really fly but could they not have at least attempted to make the wires SLIGHTLY less visible? The beauty of theatre is the sense of escapism it gives you. How are you supposed to believe a boy can fly if all you can think about is the person pulling it back and forth (the wire that is) backstage? The Wiz managed some great effects on its live show - were they just saving the budget for that one?
The songs were pretty forgettable as well. While inoffensive in themselves, there was nothing you were going to end up humming when the show finished. You need something memorable in a show to make it work, and unfortunately what was memorable in this one was for all the wrong reasons.
So let's come on to the biggest problem with this production. Stand up Christopher Walken. The producers must have thought they had struck gold when casting this Hollywood sensation as Captain Hook. He was perfectly fine as Wilbur Turnblad in the 2007 movie version of Hairspray so how bad could he be? Turns out he could be very bad. So bad that you spent the entire time wishing the crocodile would hurry up and finish him off. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why his performance was so excruciating.
Was it the fact he chose to talk through all of his songs rather than, you know, sing? (He'd be perfect if the rumours of government guidelines suggesting you will no longer be allowed to sing in musicals when theatres reopen)
Was it the fact he phoned in his performance with as much effort as someone who quit their job and was counting down the minutes until their final shift was over?
Was it that his acting was so wooden it could have been used as a peg leg?
Was it that Captain Hook needs to be engaging and charismatic while he was neither?
Was it that his acting was so unbelievably awful, even the dog out-acted him?
The answer is all of the above. He was completely and irredeemably terrible. I will be having nightmares about his performance for years to come.
Peter Pan wasn't all bad. There were a couple of highlights. The choreography was top notch especially in the big group numbers such as the Lost boys dancing. Apart from he who must not be named, the vocals ranged from fine to sublime in the case of Kelli O'Hara, and as previously mentioned, Christian Borle was a total smash and by far the best thing about it.
So is it worth a watch? Probably, but don't expect too much. If Mischief Theatre hadn't already made a show called Peter Pan Goes Wrong, I'd have said it would be a fitting title for this show. This is more of a panto than a musical which is perfectly fine in itself, but how does it compete with NBC's more successful titles? It gets a couple of things right but far more wrong and, ultimately, this Peter Panto tries but never lands.
Peter Pan is available to watch on youtube.com/theshowsmustgoon until Sunday 21st June at 7pm. Direct link below: