The NBC production, I have to admit, I did not watch closely. This was, mostly, because I found it rather boring, so I have to admit that my mind wandered a good deal. I do want to applaud NBC for doing this as I’d like to encourage folks other than PBS to make an attempt to deal with broadcasting live theatre at least occasionally, but I didn’t find this production particularly exciting. I think my largest complaint was that it lacked a sense of real commitment on the part of the cast. I felt that I was always aware that these folks seemed conscious of the fact that they were “acting,” so there wasn’t a sense of their really “becoming” the characters, even though I don’t think a lot of classic musical comedy requires the same sense of reality which one would like to see in more serious drama. Let me explain…
The song, “I’ve Gotta Crow,” is all about Peter bragging about his cleverness, etc. I’m giving my age away, but when Mary Martin did it, there was a really brash cockiness about the song which I enjoyed and thought highly appropriate. By the way, I dug out the VHS copy of the broadcast of THAT production which I had taped and watched it, to refresh my memory and I remembered this correctly. In the recent production, I felt they were just saying (singing) lines. In fact, I sensed a good deal of the “it’s really silly to have us grownups doing this little kid’s story” kind of attitude which I find to be the death knell of this sort of material. I don’t think that the story of Peter Pan (in any of its forms) is just for little kids. While children can enjoy it, it’s really for the child in all of us. It recalls the wonder and magic of being a child. It wouldn’t have been as successful (as a book, play, musical and movie) as it has been for over a hundred years if it was “just a kid’s story.”
I think this represents the sort of attitude which we used to call “talking down to the kids” during my days doing children’s theatre and it seemed to permeate this production. I’ll admit that probably the most difficult bit in the show is the scene where Tinker Bell drinks Peter’s poisoned “medicine” and can only be saved by having people clap to show that they believe in fairies. This scene CAN work, but only if we (the audience) can really believe that Peter cares and it matters. I didn’t get this from this production. Yes, I have seen Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby do this part (in recorded versions) and I was involved with a production of the original play done by Theatre 65 – The Children’s Theatre of Evanston, IL before I started teaching at Western Carolina. The show CAN work, but it isn’t just “cute,” it’s good theatre and demands the same sense of real commitment as any other show.
By the way, you may be asking if I believe in fairies. Of course I do. Tinker Bell is as real as hobbits, Hogwarts, Hamlet and Santa Claus. My brain may try to tell me they are fiction, but my heart tells my brain to shut up and believe.
I confess that I also had a problem with the rather “acid-trip” treatment of Neverland and the “politically correct” transference of Tiger Lily and her tribe to some sort of generic “aborigines.” Barrie’s characters are “Indians.” They partake of the stereotypical, dime - novel, “cowboys and Indians” image which was a part of Western culture well before the notion of “Native Americans.” I understand the objections to calling these people “Indians.” I recognize that this is an outdated awkwardness in the script, but the change which was made for this production didn’t work for me. Of course, I have a problem with the entire notion of “political correctness” here because, in every other context, the word “native” simply refers to one born in a particular place. I can trace some of my ancestors back to arriving in North America in 1620 on the Mayflower, so at least part of my family has lived here for 8-10 generations, but we aren’t supposed to call ourselves “natives” because some other group’s ancestors got here earlier which means that they are the only ones who can do so? I haven’t heard of any evidence any group of people developed on the North American continent independently of the appearance of humankind elsewhere, so it would seem that none of us are really “native” to this continent, or we all are, but that’s another issue, which I won’t get into any further. The point here is that this change just didn’t work for me in the context of this script.
There was also the fact that they seemed to have trouble deciding whether they were making a movie or doing a stage production which just made this production a less than really satisfactory experience for me. The CGI Tinker Bell was just a bit too filmic and “over the top” for me to find acceptable. The earlier videos I’ve seen are, quite frankly, recordings of stage performances and I thought they worked pretty well. I hope that NBC will continue this tradition, but I hope that they will be willing to trust the material they choose a bit more, and trust their audience to understand that there is a difference between theatre and motion pictures. I won’t say one is better, but they aren’t the same. By the way, I enjoyed last year’s NBC production of The Sound of Music a good deal. I didn’t think it was great, but I did think it was competent and credible as theatre. I wish I could say that I thought the same of this year’s presentation.
On the other hand, the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of A Christmas Carol was a lot of fun. The adaptation used is, I believe, an original one and seemed a bit too heavy on emphasizing the “Christ in Christmas” aspects of the story than I think was necessary. Yes, Dickens story DOES take place at Christmastime, but it’s about Scrooge’s reevaluation of his life and values, not about the Nativity. Anyway, I found the use of so many traditional Christmas carols well done, but a bit more than necessary. However, the show was quite well produced with a lot of well-handled special effects (rather needed for this story) and was, generally, pretty well performed.
I may be giving it a bit of a break because I did see an early evening performance after a Sunday matinee, so the cast was probably a little tired. I know how tough a two-a-day schedule can be no matter how hard you try and to do it with big cast (including fairly small children) is hard under any circumstances, but especially at the end of a six show weekend (Wed. – Sat. nights and 2 shows on Sunday) and three weeks into a five-week run. I’m not really surprised the show seemed a bit tired, but I was a little disappointed.
Of course, the fact is that after doing the show for 38 years, it’s probably hard to work up the same sense of enthusiasm that was there once. Yes, I believe that there have been changes to the script, sets, effects, etc. and certainly there are some cast changes every year (although some folks have played the same role a number of times), but I’ve noticed the same sort of thing in the “outdoor hystericals” which I have seen. I don’t think that means they shouldn’t be done, though, and tradition is an important part of both community and theatre. I could also quibble about the Little Boy Blue and Bo-Peep “dolls” (toys from the Toy Shop on the street set) which were introduced into the show in order to do a dance, which seemed a bit too much like they were lifted directly from The Nutcracker, but, overall, the show was a lot of fun. While I wouldn’t call this production an unqualified smash, I didn’t find it boring and I’m not sorry to have seen it.
I think I’ll reserve any overall judgment of this theatre organization until I’ve seen another production, or two. They’re doing Spamalot in the early summer, which I am really looking forward to seeing. I hope it is up to my expectations.