Although I didn’t technically attend my first Broadway show until the age of 10, I really consider my first Broadway musical to be the Mary Martin “Peter Pan,” which played a really short Broadway run in 1954 and was then broadcast live on NBC with the original cast in 1954, 1955 and 1960.
When I was four years old, the 1960 broadcast was released on VHS, and I proceeded to watch it every day for months on end, not unlike the kids now obsessed with “Frozen.” Its songs are vastly superior to those in the Disney “Peter Pan.”
It wasn’t until many years later that I learned “Peter Pan” was originally a stage musical. Who knew? It can be assumed that kids who tune in to “Peter Pan Live!” on Thursday will get a sensation of déjà vu when they eventually attend a local production of “Peter Pan.”
The original Broadway production was staged by no less than the great Jerome Robbins (“West Side Story,” Fiddler on the Roof”), who combined high-wire flying with imaginative dance sequences.
It was not unusual for Martin to be playing Peter Pan, as plenty of women had starred in J.M. Barrie’s original stage version. She was joined by the Australian performer Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook and Sondra Lee (still alive today at 84 years old) as Tiger Lilly.
“Peter Pan” went on to become a staple of community and regional theater, owing to its wonderful songs and family appeal. It was revived on Broadway in 1979 with Sandy Duncan, and then multiple times in the 1990s with Cathy Rigby, who was still playing the role in a national tour just three years ago.
The fact that NBC is doing a new live version of “Peter Pan” as its follow-up to “The Sound of Music Live!” (which was an unexpected ratings smash, unlike the TV show “Smash”) makes for a nice nod to history.
Allison Williams (of HBO’s “Girls”) may not have the name recognition of Carrie Underwood, but so long as she knows how to act, she’s already a step ahead of Ms. Underwood. Christopher Walken can sort of carry the tune, as seen in the film version of “Hairspray.” They will be solidly supported by Broadway talent including Christian Borle, Kelli O’Hara and Taylor Louderman.
The musical’s length has been beefed up by adding altered versions of songs from lesser-known musicals by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, who wrote about half of the original songs. Amanda Green, Adolph Green’s daughter, is behind the new material.