Anyone hoping for another NBC musical hate-watch were probably disappointed by Peter Pan Live! Thursday night.
It wasn’t perfect by any means – switching between live singing and all those filmed ads killed just about any theatrical energy and flow well before the three hours were up – but the production was colorful and glitch-free.
Allison Williams of Girls made a much more committed Peter than Carrie Underwood did a Maria von Trapp in last year’s endless Sound of Music Live!, and Christopher Walken‘s extremely peculiar Captain Hook was a triumph.
Maybe a disaster. But more of a triumph.
Williams, her hair boyishly short in the androgynous tradition of actresses cast in the title role, looked like Keira Knightley‘s brother. Which is precisely how Peter Pan should look. And her singing was both firm and light for Peter’s songs, including the standards I Gotta Crow and I Won’t Grow Up.
What was lacking was any rough-and-tumble humor – isn’t there a degree of macho self-consciousness and posturing in Peter? Williams was a bit posh.
But odd inconsistencies are hard to avoid with this character and with this story. J.M. Barrie’s tale is strewn with gender, sexual and psychological issues that can be parsed until the inevitable day that Neverland is gentrified and converted into condos.
For anyone anticipating Walken as Hook, his entrance in the role was so strange the entire production temporarily ground to a halt.
Walken seemed reluctant to look anywhere but down, as if Hook were worried about tripping on the knots in his ship’s wooden floor. He worked his way through the dialogue and lyrics with a slowness that was occasionally sinuous, and sometimes, almost aggressive, as if he fully intended to refuse to walk any plank he might be shown.
But it all began to make sense – a hook into Hook – if you assumed Walken was doing a sendup of Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
Hook is often played with a campy flourish, but this was closer to Bob Dylan’s grizzled, defiant eccentricity.
The performance, in short, remains tantalizingly open to interpretation. How often has that been said of a Captain Hook?
The show, despite quite a few slow stretches, suddenly lifted off to a satisfying conclusion with the arrival of Minnie Driver, unusually sexy as the grownup version of Peter’s indulgent friend Wendy, plus a reprise of the wonderful song Never Never Land and some expert work with flying-by-wires.
The best singing of the night, by the way, was all done by one woman: Kelli O’Hara as Mama Darling.