WRITTEN BY NEAL ZOREN
TV Columnist/21st Century Media
So I’m watching “The Making of Peter Pan,” and I notice Captain Hook and the pirates are doing a number called “Vengeance” that I don’t remember but sounds familiar.
Tracing the tune, I say “Ambition” while the pirates are saying “Vengeance.” Digging further into the abyss of my fading memory, it comes to me that the producers for NBC’s “Peter Pan – Live!” airing at 8 p.m. Thursday on Channel 10 added or adapted songs for their rendition. “Vengeance” is an adaptation of “Ambition,” written by “Peter Pan” composers Jule Styne, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green for another musical, “Do Re Mi.”
That’s why I knew the tune. Later, I learn the new lyrics for “Vengeance” are by Adolph Green’s daughter, Amanda Green, whose own lyrics have been heard on Broadway.
It all made something I already found exciting more exciting.
The original telecast of “Peter Pan” with Mary Martin in 1955 may as responsible as anything for my lifelong interest in theater. I remember it vividly to this day, fading memory or not. The flying fascinated me, and I adored Cyril Ritchard as the snarly Captain Hook.
Now NBC is following its success with last year’s “The Sound of Music,” by producing another musical for live TV, the musical that first brought Broadway into people’s homes. (Martin and Ritchard each earned Tony Awards for their performances of “Peter Pan” on the Broadway stage.)
NBC seems to have learned some things from their “Sound of Music” experience.
While that show was a huge popular hit, it did not pass muster critically, particularly because of the wooden, uninflected performance of Carrie Underwood as Maria.
No doubt Underwood, one of today’s biggest recording artists, was a draw who bolstered ratings, but she harmed NBC’s production in other ways.
This year, the Peacock folks took a new direction. Instead of trying to convert a star from one medium into a lead for another, it chose a relative unknown for the part.
“Relative” may turn out to be the operative word here, and the actress selected, Allison Williams, is the daughter of “NBC Nightly News” anchor, Brian Williams.
I’m not suggesting nepotism. Only pointing out an irony or happy coincidence.
Williams is a trained musical actress who has been seen more on television, mostly on “Girls,” than on the musical stage. “The Making of Peter Pan” shows her to be an able singer and actress who had the stage and camera presence Underwood lacked. She also appears to have taken to flying and doing midair gymnastics with alacrity.
For Captain Hook, NBC chose one of this generation’s classic screen villains, Christopher Walken, who, for all of his good looks, has usually been cast as the sinister or creepy leader of a crime scheme. I enjoy that one his nefarious creations is named Zorin.
Walken brings decades of stage experience to the production. He is the perfect amalgam of someone who has excelled in live performance and in front of a camera. Watching his rehearsals, he seems primed to give a funny yet frightening cast to Hook. I look forward to see him do the snide, sneering “Captain Hook Waltz.” (“Who’s the slimiest slime in the world? Captain Hook! Captain Hook!”).
NBC could not have done better than to surround Williams and Walken with proven Broadway pros like Christian Borle and Kelli O’Hara.
Borle, who plays Mr. Darling, the children’s father, and Smee, Hook’s primary lieutenant, is the one holdover from “The Sound of Music,” in which he played the impresario, Max. TV audiences know him best for playing the composer, Tom Levitt, in the series, “Smash.”
Borle also has a theater relationship to Peter Pan. He earned a Tony as a pirate in the prequel, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a touring production of which is due at Wilmington’s DuPont Theatre on February 17.
O’Hara is one of Broadway’s most popular and accomplished leading ladies. If her success on Broadway was matched by success in movies or television, she would a major star and a household name.
O’Hara, who plays Mrs. Darling, has proven her mettle in parts ranging from the feisty Babe O’Day in “The Pajama Game” and classy burglar in “Nice Work if You Can Get It” to an immature adult in “The Light in the Piazza” and the workaday housewife who finds romance in “The Bridges of Madison County.” She is about to return to the stage as Anna Leonowens in “The King and I” for Lincoln Center, site of her previous Rodgers and Hammerstein triumph, “South Pacific.”
NBC did a fine job in whetting audience appetite for “Peter Pan.” The “Making of …” program showed a lot of music vibrancy and that the same angles that worked so well to bring a sequence to life in the special will serve to make matters brighter when costumes and sets are added for the final show.
Working live is unusual in television today. Walken, O’Hara, and Borle are accustomed to doing it. Some newcomers might get jitters. The “Making of …” special gave me confidence in Allison Williams, and I am excited to hear the new songs and the adaptations by Amanda Green.
Time for a feast
Start shucking the clams and sautéing the baccalà.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is upon us, and for the sixth year WPHT (1210 AM) 9 a.m, to noon talk host, Dom Giordano, is hosting an elaborate banquet, at Vie Restaurant, at 600 N. Broad Street, in Philadelphia.
The selections for the feast, set for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 15, look endless and include tilapia, shrimp, and many of the other fish and seafood dishes that have become a tradition for Italian families during the Yule season.
Dom likes communing with his listeners, but the feast is held to support Catholic Charities and the Archbishop’s Christmas Benefit for Children, both of which will benefit from the event.
Dom’s guest of honor this year is Lt. Col. Allen West, retired from the U.S. Army and a former Republican congressman from Florida. He is the author of the recent book, :”Guardian of the Republic,” in which he talks about the military’s role in America, and is a frequent commentator on the Fox News Channel. Political leaders, sports figures, broadcasters and entertainer are also expected. A band will play live music. For more information, visit www.cbslocal.com/feast-of-the-seven-fishes.
Holidays on Hallmark
Christmas has already arrived at the Hallmark and Hallmark Movie Channels.
I don’t know whether wall-to-wall Christmas programming promotes greeting card sales, but from today through the big day itself, Hallmark is rotating a large library of Christmas movies.
NBC presents the perennial classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed at 8 p.m. Saturday. At the same time, Lifetime debuts a new Christmas movie, “Wishin’ and Hopin’” with Chevy Chase and Molly Ringwald. It reprises at midnight.
CBS may get my prize for the Christmas program I must record, the “I Love Lucy Christmas Special,” airing 8 p.m. Sunday.
Stay tuned for updates as “White Christmas,” “Holiday Inn,” and “Miracle on 34th Street” hit the air.
My best advice: Be on the lookout for any Christmas movie starring Barbara Stanwyck, in particular “Christmas in Connecticut” in which she plays a popular homemaking columnist who isn’t married, has no children, and can’t cook, and “Remember the Night,” in which Barbara plays a shoplifter arrested for her third offense on Christmas Eve but is taken by the sheriff, Fred MacMurray, to his family’s home in the Midwest instead of to jail.
App saves the day
A loud huzzah for modern contraptions!
Merrill Reese just repeated the Eagles were winning 20-7 when I had to turn off my radio and head to Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant that would have a TV in it bar area but would be quieter and more formal in its dining rooms.
My nephew to the rescue! I can barely get my fancy smart phone to make calls, but my nephew had an NFL app on his phone and summoned up the Eagles game, which unfolded gloriously propped against a glass between my brother, my nephew, and me, silent but watchable to let us watch the rout go on.
I have to admit that I have little faith in the Eagles secondary and thought Tony Romo would be connecting with Dez Bryant all afternoon to outrun Nate Allen. Of course, just as the phone was placed against the glass, Nate Allen would have an interception and throw by criticism and doubt out the window.
Now to stoke my confidence for this week’s game against Seattle. Hmmmm.