Review: Peter Pan Live!

I just wanted to write a quick review of NBC’s Thursday broadcast of Peter Pan Live!  Watching this had completely slipped my mind, until Blue Striker finished his homework early and wanted to watch some TV.  BTW, thanks a lot to NBC for showing a three hour long play (padded by commercials) on a school night.  I realize that Fridays and Saturdays are TV graveyards nowadays, but this meant that many kids stayed up way past their Thursday bedtimes.  Oh, well, I guess it’s my fault that I failed to plan for this “special event”. (Sarcasm intended.)

I think Alison Williams, the daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, dispelled any notion of nepotism with her portrayal of Peter Pan.  She was very cute and spunky when she needed to be, and appropriately melancholic at the end. Her English accent was good, but I say this as an American, so what do I know?  She had a bit of a problem with the flying, but in the final scene, when Peter flies into Wendy’s window for the last time, it was magic. Blue Striker, as with most kids watching the play Peter Pan for the first time, was confused by Peter’s gender.  Was Peter a boy or a girl?  I had to explain to him that a petite woman traditionally portrays Peter on stage, because the role is too demanding and strenuous for an actual 12 year old boy. (I didn’t go into child labor laws and all that.)

As much as I like Christopher Walken as an actor, I think he was out of his element as Captain Hook.  He is, at best, a double threat — great actor, OK dancer, please leave the singing to someone else.  And I think he was a bit old for a part that involved some physicality. Blue Striker was less generous with regard to this; according to him, “wow, that guy is old!” Neil Patrick Harris would have been great as Captain Hook, but he’s overexposed as it is.

The other cast members ranged from splendid to just OK.  Taylor Louderman as Wendy was a bit flat, although I did like Minnie Driver as the adult Wendy, bad blonde wig and all.  The Lost Boys, the pirates and the Indians were fantastic dancers.  Blue Striker did object to the Indians’ costumes — “they’re half naked!”  But I had no such objection (hot guys in flesh-colored Speedos and feathers? <<Ahem>>).  And I appreciated the fact that the Indians’ song “Ugg-A-Wugg” was replaced by “True Blood Brothers”.

The production values were pretty good.  The costumes were pretty nifty — I really liked the pirate costumes.  And I can’t believe they used a real dog to play Nana!  Given the unpredictability of animals and the live setting, the fact that the dog who played Nana did such a good job is a testimony not only to the dog, but to the trainer. On the other hand, whoever designed the crocodile should have been told to do it over — it looked terrible!  And the flying apparatus crew needed more practice with pulling Allison Williams around on the wire rig (except, as mentioned before, at the end).

Overall, Peter Pan Live! was good, not great.  Blue Striker enjoyed it, despite the objections noted above.  And he had no problem staying awake until 11 o’clock.

An Appreciation: Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

I know that this is a bit of a departure from the usual topics here at Pop Rocking Culture, as well as a bit late, but I wanted to write about the late director Mike Nichols.  Nichols passed away earlier this month at the age of 83.  Among other things, Nichols attended the University of Chicago, although he dropped out to pursue an acting career.  (As an aside, I have a degree from the U of C.  Over the years, I’ve noticed that the University of Chicago, like Harvard, is one of those places where the dropouts are as famous as the grads.) Nichols had a successful career as part of a comedy duo with Elaine May during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

But when I think of Mike Nichols, I think of a couple of my favorite movies:  The Graduate (1967) and Postcards from the Edge (1990).  To me, The Graduate is one of the rare movies that is better than the source book.  Mike Nichols’ directing gave The Graduate a needed lighter, more comedic touch (Nichols received an Academy Award for Best Director).  The casting was also a great contribution to the movie’s success.  Much has been mentioned about Dustin Hoffman’s replacing the originally-intended Robert Redford in the part of Benjamin Braddock.  Hoffman, with his earnest, somewhat naive persona and his “average guy” looks, made the character of Braddock sympathetic.  As Nichols eventually realized, it would have been more difficult to get an audience to sympathize with a circa-1967 Robert Redford.  And although Anne Bancroft still played Mrs. Robinson as the self-absorbed predator of the book, her comic timing in the scenes with Hoffman rendered her somewhat likable.

Postcards from the Edge is based on Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel.  (An aside for those of you who only think of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, go read Postcards.) Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine play daughter and mother (based on Fisher’s real-life mother, Debbie Reynolds) in the film.  Although Postcards the movie isn’t as good as the book, it’s still pretty funny.  The interplay between Streep and MacLaine is classic, and puts a humorous spin on an otherwise tense relationship.  (For those who care, this film passes the Bechdel Test.)  And watch for the bit where Streep “hangs from a building” during a movie shoot.

Mike Nichols also worked with Meryl Streep on the great, but very serious, Silkwood (1983) as well as the comedy Heartburn (1986), adapted from Nora Ephron’s semi-autobiographical novel (yes, another one) about the dissolution of her marriage to famed journalist Carl Bernstein.  In Heartburn, as in The Graduate, casting plus directing are key elements.  The last time movie audiences saw the character of Carl Bernstein, he was portrayed by a still “earnest and somewhat naïve” Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men (1976).  Casting Jack Nicholson as the “Bernstein character” is a 180 degree shift from the earlier film.  Although, like Postcards, Heartburn the movie doesn’t measure up to the book, Nichols’ direction makes it entertaining.

I think that because of his earlier work with Elaine May, Mike Nichols the director had an awareness of women as “real people”, and therefore was able to bring forth fully-formed female performances.  I am sure that it wasn’t hard to do when working with good source materials such as Postcards and Heartburn. However, Nichols’ directing abilities were apparent when it came to fleshing-out the relatively flat character of Mrs. Robinson, as well as later on with the more challenging real-life personas of Karen Silkwood and her friend Dolly Pelliker in Silkwood (screenplay co-written by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen).

With Nichols’ death, Hollywood has lost a true talent.