Monday, January 20, 2014

Can NBC Give New Life to 6-Time Broadway Nightmare, PETER PAN?

Peter Pan on Broadway 1954
Yesterday, NBC finally announced that their second annual live family musical will be... Peter Pan! Coincidentally, just like last year's The Sound of Music, this show starred Mary Martin in the original Broadway cast.

I think this choice comes as a surprise to many theatre people. Most commentators were thinking NBC would select a classic big-company show like West Side StoryGuys and Dolls, or even another Rodgers and Hammerstein like South Pacific. But from a business standpoint, I do believe that Peter Pan is one of the best family-friendly, yet well-known Broadway musicals they could have chosen. I think the best thing about this choice is that unlike The Sound of Music, the role of Peter Pan is not nearly iconic enough for people to tear to shreds whoever plays the role like they did Carrie Underwood.

Though Peter Pan is best known as the taped stage show (also starring Mary Martin) from 1960, as well as the more recent remake in 2000 starring Cathy Rigby, its Broadway attempts were shaky, to say the least. Oh, and I should clarify that this is definitely not the Disney version.

But seriously, this show had the craziest Broadway romp I've ever seen.

The original Broadway version, starring Mary Martin as the title character, opened in October 1954 and played 152 performances, closing the following February. Though the short run may not indicate popularity, it won all three Tonys for which it was nominated, including Best Actor (major Broadway veteran Cyril Ritchard) and Best Actress (Mary Martin), as well as Best Stage Technician, an award which was discontinued after 1963.

It was revived at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in 1979 starring Sandy Duncan who received her 3rd Tony nomination for the role. Sadly, she never won. The show stayed a semi-respectable two years, but garnered only two Tony nominations and one Outer Critics Circle nomination, none of which they won. Of course, it opened the same year as Andrew Lloyd Webber's Evita, which just about cleaned up. Check out the performance below!

Almost 10 years later, in 1990, it was revived again, playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, now starring former Olympic gymnast, Cathy Rigby. This installment, however, made the other two look like smash hits, running only 3 previews and 45 performances and receiving only two award nominations at all (both Tonys).

Then 10 months later, it was transferred to the Minskoff Theatre- still starring Cathy Rigby- where it played 48 performances and received a single Outer Critics Circle nomination, but no Tonys.

But third time's the charm, right? Seven years later (1998), they tried yet again to mount a successful revival starring everyone's favorite gymnast-turned actress, Ms. Rigby. This one did slightly better than the other two Rigby attempts, with five previews, 48 performances, and finally an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Revival of a Musical (the only award for which it was nominated). To put it in perspective, remember that this is just two years after Rent opened. No one was interested in family, feel-good shows; they just wanted some hard-hitting, gritty, rebellion. Nonetheless, check out the Tony Awards video starring Ms. Rigby below!

Seriously, will this show never die? Yet a fourth time, Cathy Rigby starred in Peter Pan, this time at the Gershwin Theatre, just three months after it closed at the Marquis. This run lasted a staggering- by Peter Pan on Broadway standards- 126 performances, and the Outer Critics Circle finally took pity on the poor lady and gave her the award for Outstanding Actress in a Musical. Oh and as usual, guess what show was nominated for and again did not win the Tony Award for Best Revival?

I grew up watching the Mary Martin Peter Pan movie, and I really loved it. Watch this clip of Mary Martin performing "I"m Flying."

How insane is that? I've never heard of a musical being revived five times like that!

Cathy Rigby reprised her role again (no really, what connection can she possibly have to the character/show at this point? I'm thinking there's some Stockholm syndrome in there) in the recent National Tour.

So the main questions I'll be asking about NBC's broadcast are, will they cast a girl in the title role as is traditional, or will they change it to a boy (a change some regional theatres have made)? Will Nana the dog be played by a person again? And will the song "I'm Flying" receive the award for worst choreography ever like it has in every other version? (Peter Pan just gliding from side to side? Really?)

So any predictions- both cringe-worthy and legitimate- on which former Olympian or pop singer NBC will pull in to play the title character? More importantly, and I know we're all thinking it, who will Laura Benanti play?!

Sally Henry // Twitter: // Facebook:

Read More:
Peter Pan Original Broadway (1954)
Peter Pan First Revival (1979)
Peter Pan Second Revival (1990)
Peter Pan Third Revival (1991)
Peter Pan Fourth Revival (1998)
Peter Pan Fifth Revival (1999)
Peter Pan Movie (1960)
Peter Pan Movie (2000)


  1. haha Yes Laura has to be something! Maybe She could play Wendy or she's got the skin to play Tiger Lilly.

  2. Maybe so! :) If only there were an obvious character for her to play! Obviously, I'd be fine with her playing all the roles.