Adaptation: A Podcast Dedicated to Film Adaptations

The podcast for in-depth discussion on films and the original material they're based on.

Peter Pan Productions that Fly from Stage to TV

With Pan, a new adaptation of Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie, being released in theaters soon, we at Adaptation Podcast have been talking about ALL THINGS PAN. Unlike most adaptations of Peter Pan, this new film will be an origin story and prequel to the ones we know and love.

While commentating on Peter Pan (2003), three other adaptations came to mind: the 1960 production starring Mary Martin, Peter Pan Live! (2014), and Hook (1991). My article on Hook will be out shortly, but first let’s address the two televised stage productions by NBC.

Cast:                                                         1960                                                            2014

Peter Pan Mary Martin Allison Williams
Hook Cyril Ritchard Christopher Walken
Mr. Darling Christian Borle
Smee Joe E. Marks
Wendy (Young) Maurine Bailey Taylor Louderman
Jane Caitlin Houlahan
Wendy (Grown up) Peggy Maurer Minnie Driver
Narrator Lynn Fontane
Michael Kent Fletcher John Allyn
John Joey Trent Jake Lucas
Tootles David Komoroff Jason Gotay
Slightly Edmund Gaynes F. Michael Haynie
Twins Luke Halpin &
Benedict Herrman
David & Jacob Guzman
Curly Bill Snowden Ryan Steele
Nibs Carson Woods Chris McCarrell
Tiger Lily Sondra Lee Alanna Saunders
Black Bill John Holland
Cecco Richard Winter Michael Park
Starkey Robert Vanselow Bryce Ryness
Liza Jacqueline Mayro (Uncredited)
Nana Norman Shelly (in a suit) Bowdie (Real Dog)
Croc (Uncredited)
Mrs. Darling Margalo Gillmore Kelli O’Hara

There are more characters listed for 2014

Both versions had their shortcomings and their pleasant surprises. I love the story of Peter Pan, but it has been done so many times. I grew up on the 1960 version, but I was interested to see what they could do with the extra money and space, and of course—CHRISTOPHER WALKEN AS HOOK.


Peter Pan Live! was the 2014 live production of the 1954 musical adaptation of Peter Pan, televised from Grumman Studios in Bethpage, New York. The production was a follow-up to The Sound of Music Live! While similar in content to the original, the version of Peter Pan featured in the special contained revisions to its book to emphasize the character of Captain Hook, along with additional songs from its revivals, new songs adapted from the musicals Do Re Mi and Say, Darling, and the restoration of a song that had been cut from the musical before its original Broadway premiere.

This production had the capability of a huge studio, rather than just a theatrical stage, and the characters easily flew between lavish and colorful sets, instead of needing moments for set changes. It ran 2:11 without commercials—so it was about three hours long when I saw it on TV, which may have been needed to fit everything in, but it felt really long and by the middle I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

The 1960 version just titled Peter Pan and was a production that looked like they were taping the stage production as is. It ran 1:40 without commercials, which is rather long considering they cut the story down, presumably to make it more child friendly, sacrificing some scenes and songs, and lessening the time that Wendy, John, and Michael have to interact with Neverland and the audience. It was closer to the book at first, but once in Neverland it takes many liberties and is incomplete.

Characters

2015-09-22 23.48.07Peter: I originally watched the Mary Martin version when I was a little kid—able to forgive much more. When I rewatched the 1960 version, I thought it would be strange to have an older woman playing Peter, but once Mary Martin got into it; she played it like a careless child. She was naïve and silly and all about fun. She may not have seemed like a boy, but Peter is stuck at an age where he is sexless. Allison Williams on the other hand, played Peter in such a way that I never saw a little boy; I always saw a woman.

Allison Williams is not a bad actress, but the role is iconic and she had a high bar to reach. She played Peter a little flat and bland. For example, when Peter is calling Hook a codfish, he is asked if he is a man, the answer “NEVER”—a line which should have a spark to it—was very glazed over. Mary Martin’s Peter actually “imitates” Hook rather than dubbing the other actor’s voice over to pretend that the imitation is really that good. This way the pirates, including Hook, seem even more silly and bumbling. However, the questions were almost completely omitted in 1960—the only question asked was, “do you have another voice?” which led to a scene I can only describe as the version taking advantage of her vocal range, extending it into this song and dance with Peter dressing up like a lady—“A beautiful lady” as Hook says. This is a bit like in the book when Peter wears Wendy’s cloak to disguise himself on the ship—which he does do, but as a pirate for a good laugh.

I understand that they have a woman play Peter for the arrangement of the songs. An older woman can hit the notes better than a young boy, but the original play was not a musical and only starred a woman because in 1904 children could not work past nine p.m., so it would be interesting to see if a young boy could pull the production off. Speaking of songs, however, it is always funny that the loud songs do not wake John and Michael, or anyone else in the house (which we discussed in our commentary).

Wendy (young): Taylor Louderman, in the 2014 version, was a tad too flighty or airy. Her singing voice was fabulous but the speaking lines were like needles in my ears. She also looked like she was wearing a bad wig, which made me think maybe she would take it off to play Jane, but as the cast list shows, she does not. Honestly, The actress looked too old to be keeping her doll in her bed, not to say that there is a specific age that something like that should stop, but her mannerisms were under her age and seemed so awkward. We have seen that before, in Jurassic Park and Maleficent—and just like those, they aged the actress but not the character and it comes off weird.

Her actions with “the kiss” giving and getting are over the top and a bit sickening because it seems unfounded and childish for her, not to mention her wild belief in the unimaginable. A strange boy just snuck into her room, and she is immediately in love with him? I know the story has been spun that way in many adaptations but I have to say that the skepticism of Wendy and her brothers in the 2003 version was refreshing.

Startling enough the 1960 version omitted the whole idea of “the kiss.” There is no such exchange and when Wendy is shot, she is saved by one of her buttons, a very interesting twist. Plus, when they talk to each other like Mother and Father, they laugh at the whole idea, though it still scares Peter while Wendy is unfettered. Maurine Bailey gets very little stage time, however, as she stays behind when the boys go out, but they made her scenes count. Even if it is more believable to say that Peter was upset not with her leaving, but with the fact that she was taking everyone else.

Wendy (grown up): I didn’t really like Minnie Driver (2014). I liked the line that being grown up keeps you grounded, but when I used to watch Peggy Maurer (1960), in the same role, I cried over how heartbroken Wendy was that she couldn’t go, and loved her apprehension to letting Jane fly off with Peter. Minnie Driver’s Wendy says that she hopes that her daughter will have a daughter and she will fly off with Peter and on and on down the genealogical tube, just so she knows that Peter will live on. It would not be my first reaction to having my daughter possibly stolen away. Minnie Driver is only in it for a short second, but it was enough to not like her words or the way she carried herself. I am glad they make a bigger deal out of the mermaids comb, as Wendy really does treasure it forever and shows it to Peter. Even though the 2014 didn’t break my heart as much, the ending when Peter flies off with Jane—it still gets me and makes me cry a bit.

2015-09-22 23.47.40Hook: In both versions, Hook was done well, in completely different ways. Cyril Ritchard (1960) played him deliciously evil. His Hook is a bit of a caricature, but this is a child’s “dream” if you will, and his emotional range is far superior to that of Christopher Walken (2014), although he was a crazy and amazing Hook in his own right. In fact, he played Hook like only Christopher Walken can—as Christopher Walken, who, if you did not know, is a fabulous dancer. He isn’t much of a singer, but his speak-singing was actually quite pleasant and fitting. He had some fantastic lines and fabulous comedic timing and deadpan moments. When Wendy gives her last words, he retorts, “That’s it?” which is what I was always thinking and could be a play on Cyril Ritchard’s version who allowed Wendy to say “These are my last words” and then cut her off, so they literally were. Genius.

Smee: Christian Borle who played Smee in 2014, also played Mr. Darling, instead of playing Hook at the same time, which first happened at its opening in 1904 to keep cast costs down. This made Smee quite a bit younger than I am used to, but it wasn’t a bad thing. The actor was well built, giving Smee some guns! Even though Bob Hoskins will always be my Smee, I did enjoy Borle’s portrayal of him. He had a different comical styling and he added things to the character that I liked very much. His was one of the best performances and completely trumps Joe E. Marks (1960), who was fine, but very forgettable and completely overshadowed by Hook.

The Lost Boys: In the 2014 version, they looked like a bunch of AC/DC cosplayers in their school uniform-like costumes that did not fit. They were clearly professional dancers, which didn’t hurt, but my suspension of disbelief can be stretched only so far. Their speaking lines were tough to handle. They acted just fine, but again with the age of the actors and then their mannerisms, and the unnatural pitch of their voices (maybe I misheard, but it seemed like they were trying to sound younger) were very off-putting. They are far too old to need to be adopted. It is a big deal that the lost boys and Peter are supposed to be children and any grown up in Neverland is a pirate, so it would be nice to see that properly—or did I get all of that from Hook? Anyway, properly aged children play Michael and John, and I loved them.

In 1960 all the boys were young like you would imagine. They handled the choreography and stage directions just fine, even if they weren’t as complicated as the more recent production. It did’t hurt the production at all to have them be the age they should be. They changed what they needed to, to fit the production. Tootles was a bit on the younger side, so they let one of the others shoot Wendy.

(Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC)

Photo by: Virginia Sherwood/NBC

Tiger Lily and Tribe: If you look up the two actresses who played Tiger Lily, Sondra Lee and Alanna Saunders, you will find that one of them (from 1960) is white and blonde and the other (from 2014) and her tribe were authentic and not whitewashed. Maybe one or two were white, but most of her tribe looked Asian, Polynesian, Caribbean and/or African. And when they got to the tribal song when the tribe and Lost Boys have come to a truce, they updated it to something more authentic than the racist sounding one of 1960, which also completely left out Marooner’s Rock and instead has Tiger Lily tied to a tree for the wolves. Although Tiger Lily does save Peter in both versions, I preferred her peering over at a wounded Peter and ending the scene to the 1960 version where she and her tribe chase off the pirates just after “the beautiful lady” is revealed to be Peter, which is silly and unconvincing. This version turned Tiger Lily into a comical farce and a bit if a wimp. I don’t mind a little comedy, but not at the expense of a culture. This is what went into children’s heads!

Nana: In 2014 she was an actual and very well trained Sheepdog (not a St. Bernard or a Newfoundland in this one) and possibly one of the better actors. In 1960 she was a costumed actor, Norman Shelly, who you may have noticed, also played the crocodile in that version. His Nana was very good and for a bit you forgot it was a suit, even if the dog was too big. It was very similar to one of my favorite Sesame Street characters, Barkley the dog.

The Croc: Remember Katy Perry’s sharks? That was the 2014 version, but nowhere near as cool. The actor was uncredited and was in a weird sparkly pink and purple suit. It is similar to the 1960 version, but that croc was a bit more realistic in both costume and the way he crawled on the ground. I guess Norman Shelley had more practice for suits. The whole production might have spent more time on it as there were many animals in suits, but they were done well in an artistic and dance costume kind of way.

Sets and Costumes

For the most part, the sets and costumes were very well done in both versions. In 2014 everything was colorful and fun, as it should be in Neverland; even the stage floor was painted like a map and had a directional star, which is cool, but when the boys were fighting over the blue “sea” parts, it was a little strange for stage direction. Hook had a great chair that he sat upon a lot; it was a red cushioned gold throne, which reclined (or at least a food rest raised)! It was a cute addition to the set and character.

The 1960 version did great on less with simpler and yet more interesting and clever stage craft. They were more meticulous with their spacing, movement and set design with pieces of scenery that could move, change and grow.

Downfalls

In the beginning of the 2014 version, Peter and Wendy go into the corridor to see if it is safe after they hear a noise. I do not ever remember ending up in the corridor before, and I feel like they added it because of the studio capabilities—rather than the issue of sets on a stage.

2015-09-22 23.47.57It is sad that it took until they were planning to leave Neverland for the actors to find their grooves and fill out their roles better. It took a second watch to not feel agitated by the length and some of the acting. I actually like a lot about it, except for Peter and Wendy, and aren’t they the whole point?!

As I said, the 1960 version had cut the story down, so I couldn’t understand why they had a dance number with the animals and Liza (yes, the maid Liza had fairy dust thrust upon her by Michael and although she then spins out of sight, she appears in Neverland). There is another scene later with Liza where she asks Peter to teach her how to crow, this is probably for the kids to “learn along” with them, and the scene is actually really cute, but a bit frivolous. She is so lucky that the Darlings don’t fire her for being missing all that time.

Should I have been annoyed with being able to see the wires that helped the kids and Peter fly in 2014? Probably not, as it was live, but I couldn’t help but see them, while in the lower budget Mary Martin version I only spotted them once (well twice if you count the way the back of Michaels feety pajamas hiked up).

Highlights

 1960:

  • Mr. Darling is found, when they return, to be in Nana’s doghouse in the nursery. It’s a good laugh.
  • There are many comedic moments in this version. Like when Peter tries to hide everyone on the ship, including the costumed animals, and finds there are not enough doors to close over them, until he realizes one door is a pull-down shade.
  • It is very light and fun.
  • Michael is the cutest in his feety pajamas, especially when he learns to fly and is running in the air.

2014:

  • They kept the Kite in this one, helping Wendy get away when the pirates attack (although that has always been a silly thing). Also, when a Pirate lets it gets away from him, he cries like a child and it made me giggle. Especially, when Smee gave him a biscuit (cookie) to calm him down.
  • When Smee and two other pirates are marking spots to blow up Neverland they are singing, and at certain points they pause for effect and I enjoy it.
  • The pirates are all pretty fantastic.
  • It emphasized diplomacy. Wendy tries to teach it to the boys, and they continue singing “I won’t grow up” making War in general seem childish—though she hilariously fails to use diplomacy with Tiger Lily a moment later.
  • I love that Peter says he is forgetful at the beginning, but by the end he forgets that he forgets.

Both versions are worth a watch and for very different reasons. I suppose that even though Peter Pan has been done so many times, and in so many formats, you can still make it new and interesting.

Before going to see the new film Pan, I would also recommend checking out the Syfy network’s two-part miniseries, Neverland, which takes a very interesting look on the origins of Peter and Hook as well as the Lost Boys. It is definitely worth a watch—and Bob Hoskins reprised his role as SMEE!

Stay tuned for my thoughts on Hook (1991), to come soon.
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One comment on “Peter Pan Productions that Fly from Stage to TV

  1. Dorin R.
    October 8, 2015

    Reblogged this on dogaru20.

    Like

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