“Peter Pan Live” Airs on NBC

Allison Williams and Christopher Walken Star

Peter Pan Live!On December 4, 2014, NBC continued its now annual tradition of airing a theatrical production filmed exclusively for television. Last year, NBC had a stupendous success with their airing of a live production of The Sound of Music, amassing 22 million viewers for the special, which was produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (the producers of the Oscars as well as many musical films such as Chicago and Hairspray). This year, the same producing team mounted a production of Peter Pan, adapting the version first produced in 1954. Following in a tradition led by Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby of a female portraying the young boy, Allison Williams (Girls) was cast as Peter Pan. In addition, Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane, Hurlyburly) portrayed Captain Hook, Christian Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher) played Smee, Kelli O’Hara (The Bridges of Madison County) played Mrs. Darling, and Minnie Driver played the adult Wendy and the narrator. The broadcast, though not as successful as last year’s The Sound of Music, brought in 9.129 million viewers.

Sometimes Growing Up Is Not So Bad photo

Allison Williams is a star who has recently skyrocketed to national recognition, and this performance certainly took her notoriety one step further than the already immense fame she has garnered for her supporting role on Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO. It’s not an accident that her father is Brian Williams, managing editor and anchor of NBC nightly news for over 20 years. Still, it’s hard to resent the nepotism involved here, because both father and daughter are so sweetly earnest. This photo is a screen shot of a recent facebook post Allison Williams made on her personal profile, showing how she has yearned to play this role since the age of 2 and a half. And her father was the first to announce the casting on his news show, adorably citing how this is a role she has always longed to play, and he should know, as he’s her father. This was an interesting way for Williams to foray into professional stage performance, as the broadcast had elements of both stage and screen performance. Whereas the musical was written and principally staged for the full-scale live stage performance, there were also elements that were only possible due to the filmed format, such as a larger set and cast and more diverse camera angles. Walken was cited to express ambivalence about this duality of performance methods, as he wasn’t thrilled about having a stage show broadcast to millions without the usual weeks of rehearsals and previews given to a Broadway show, and also that he’s never quite sure when the camera was even on him.

Firmly Mixed Reviews

peter panEven prior to the airing on Thursday evening, Williams conducted several interviews in which she predicted that many people would “hate-watch” the special, but also expecting that once they sat down to view it, it would be difficult to realize the “hate” part of the equation. Perhaps her self-aware semi-cynicism stems from her friendship with fellow millennial stars such as Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke, who would never be caught dead performing in such a classically un-ironical role such as this one (though Dunham probably wishes she could be a musical star, but she cannot sing and her comedy stems from a very different place; Kirke honestly would never wish this upon herself). Anyway, Williams was thrust amongst these fellow girls, and does offer a nice juxtaposition to their sentiment on the HBO show, but in this case, she proves herself to be paving the way to a very different career. As for actual reviews, some people loved it, and some people genuinely despised it, but most were somewhere in between. Alessandra Stanley in The New York Times said that Allison “ruined hate-watching,” because she convincingly pulled off the role after all. The Hollywood Reporter lauded Williams’ performance, and considered the entire special a success. Still, musical theatre lover Adam Feldman in Time Out New York came out with perhaps the most objectively accurate response, critiquing the entire show of Peter Pan for not being a first-rate show in the first place, but also critiquing Zadan and Meron for minimizing the inherent theatricality of the piece. Still, he expressed a sincere wish that NBC try again with the live television musical theatre concept next year, which the network has already expressed their intent to do.

Liza Minnelli To Guest Star on NBC’s Smash

Theater legend Liza Minnelli (daughter of yet another theater legend, Judy Garland) is scheduled to play herself in an episode of NBC’s soapy Broadway-themed television drama Smash, which returns to TV for its second season this coming February.

It is anticipated that the Tony Award-winning Ms. Minnelli (Cabaret, The Act, Flora, the Red Menace) will be singing a new song by Smash‘s resident songwriters, Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (Hairspray).  She will have a duet with fellow Tony-winner, actor Christian Borle (recently of Broadway’s Peter and the Starcatcher), who co-stars on Smash as Broadway composer Tom Levitt.

The name of the Smash episode that Liza Minnelli will appear in is called “The Surprise Party”.  Of her guest appearance, NBC Entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said, “Liza Minnelli is the essence of a multi-talented, singular show business sensation, particularly for her extraordinary contributions to Broadway.  So what could be more fitting than to have her legendary talent on a show that celebrates a world Liza has dazzled for decades?”

More Broadway and Musical Theater Stars Join TV’s Smash

From the beginning, Smash, the NBC TV show about the creation of a Broadway musical, has employed many real-life Broadway stars. Christian Borle (a recent Tony Award winner for his role in Peter and the Starcatcher), Brian d’Arcy James (the man behind the big green costume in Broadway’s Shrek), Will Chase (Rent, Billy Elliot), and Meg Hilty (Wicked) are among the Broadway regulars that have populated the world of Smash, giving it a special air of authenticity for musical theater fans. The recent news that d’Arcy James and Chase won’t be series regular next year, though, made it seem that the show might be chipping away at the genuine Broadway babies.

Theater fans can relax — for now — though, since it appears that Smash is continuing its policy of hiring actual musical theater performers. One of the most recent cast additions in Jeremy Jordan, the break-out star of the 2011-2012 season for his roles in Bonnie & Clyde and Newsies. On Smash, Jordan is set to play a Brooklyn-born singer (perhaps borrowing some of the tough-guy, New York attitude that he is currently showing Broadway audiences in Newsies?).

And now there is news that Jennifer Hudson will be joining Smash. The former American Idol contestant wowed musical theater lovers in 2006 when she played Effie White in the film version of the Broadway hit Dreamgirls. Although Hudson has not actually starred in a Broadway production (her appearances on the Great White Way have been limited to a couple special benefit concerts), she will be playing a Broadway star named Veronica Moore in a multi-episode arc.

With any luck, Smash will be employing even more Broadway and musical theater talents in the future. Given that the TV show films in New York City, it creates the possibility for working Broadway performers to do both theater and television. Of course the extent to which they can do both may depend on how demanding their roles are and what the show’s shooting schedule is like. Jeremy Jordan, for instance, plans to continue playing his part in Newsies while also filming Smash. But Christian Borle, who has a starring role on Smash as a composer, will soon be departing Broadway’s Peter and the Starcatcher to begin filming.

Once Takes Top Honors at the 2012 Tony Awards

Many Broadway shows were honored at the 2012 Tony Awards this past Sunday evening, but it was the musical Once, based on the Irish indie film of the same name, that received the most recognition, nabbing eight Tonys (including Best Musical and Best Leading Actor for Steve Kazee).

Little-show-that-could Peter and the Starcatcher won the second largest number of Tony Awards, taking a total of five Tonys, including Best Featured Actor in a Play for Christian Borle (now well-known to TV audiences for his role as a Broadway songwriter in the NBC series Smash).

Beloved Broadway actress Audra McDonald received her fifth Tony Award, this time for her acclaimed performance in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which took the Best Musical Revival award.

The Best Play award went to the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Clybourne Park, while the Best Revival of a Play award went to the sell-out production of Arthur Miller’s classic Death of a Salesman (co-starring Andrew Garfield, star of the new Spider-man movie).

Newsies, the Disney film flop that has now become a popular Broadway show, won Best Score (for lyricist Jack Feldman and composer Alan Menken), as well as Best Choreography for Christopher Gattelli’s energetic dance moves.

Hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, this year’s Tony Awards ceremony not only featured the presentation of the awards to this season’s winners, but also several musical performances (including a special performance by the cruise ship cast of Hairspray on the high seas) and special awards like one given to Hugh Jackman in recognition of the money he raised for charity while performing his solo show.