A Century of the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up - A History of Peter Pan on Stage

News   A Century of the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up - A History of Peter Pan on Stage
 
Can't wait for "Peter Pan Live!"? Learn all about the history of the show, from its first production in 1950 through NBC's live broadcast Dec. 4!

J.M. Barrie
J.M. Barrie

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"Peter Pan Live!", the follow-up to last year's "The Sound of Music Live!", will be broadcast Dec. 4 at 8/7c on NBC, and here in the Playbill Vault, we're passing the time until it begins by digging into Peter Pan's history on stage and screen.

Peter Pan is a character and story that comes from the mind of writer J.M. Barrie. Peter first appeared in a few chapters of Barrie's 1902 novel "The Little White Bird," but the story that most of us know best today actually comes from a play Barrie subsequently wrote, focusing on the adventures of Peter Pan. It was called Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, and it opened in London on December 27, 1904. Though it was an instant hit with audiences of children and adults alike, Barrie repeatedly revised the play until the script was published in 1928. He also adapted the script into a 1911 novel, "Peter and Wendy," from which the final scene in the Charlap/Leigh musical version originates.

The story was inspired by Barrie's relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family. Following the death of their parents, Barrie became the guardian to George, John, Peter, Michael and Nicholas Llewelyn Davies, and the Llewelyn Davies were for the rest of their lives associated with Barrie and the Peter Pan story. Finding Neverland, a musical adaptation of the film based on the Llewelyn Davies boys' early lives, opens on Broadway in 2015 with Matthew Morrison starring as J.M. Barrie.

In 1950, the first Broadway musical adaptation of Peter Pan opened at the Imperial Theatre, current home to Les Misérables. It was originally intended to be a full-length musical, but the production ended up including only five songs, making it better classified as a play with music. The songs were written by none other than Leonard Bernstein, whose only other Broadway score credit at that time was 1944's On the Town. The five songs he presented in Peter Pan — "Who Am I?," "Pirate's Song," "Plank Round," "Build My House" and "Peter Peter" — were recorded as part of an original cast recording that also included a great deal of the play's dialogue. This production starred Boris Karloff in the roles of Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. Karloff would, of course, go on to famously immortalize Frankenstein's monster in 1931's feature film "Frankenstein," as well as two sequels in 1935 and 1939.

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A studio recording was released in 2005 that restored many songs written by Bernstein for the production that had been omitted from the original staging. The King's Head Theatre in London produced a world-premiere production of Peter Pan in 2001 that included the complete restored Bernstein score for the first time. The score may not be the first set of songs that jump to mind when theatre fans think of the story of Peter Pan today, but it's a lovely score worth seeking out. "Build My House," sung by Marcia Henderson as Wendy in the original production, is a particular stand-out that has been recorded by others on occasion.

Take a look at the entire opening night Playbill from the 1950 production in the Vault.

For many, the most iconic musical adaption of Peter Pan is the version that opened in 1954 at the Winter Garden Theatre, most recently home to Rocky. This production, like the 1950 adaptation, merely added songs to J.M. Barrie's original play, with no credited book writer. This time the songs were written by composer Mark "Moose" Charlap and lyricist Carolyn Leigh. During the pre-Broadway West Coast tour, the production was not successful, and director Jerome Robbins engaged composer Jule Styne and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green to fill out the score, making this the first Broadway version of Peter Pan to feature a full-length musical score. Charlap and Leigh wrote most of the score that you hear today, though Styne, Comden and Green were responsible for "Neverland," "Wendy," "Oh, My Mysterious Lady," "Ugg-a-wugg," "Distant Melody" and "Captain Hook's Waltz." The three of them ended up grabbing a credit for "Additional Music and Lyrics."

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This production starred Broadway legend Mary Martin, who at that time was already well-known from starring in Leave It To Me! (in which she introduced the hit song "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"), One Touch of Venus and South Pacific. She famously went on to star in the original productions of The Sound of Music and I Do! I Do! after appearing in Peter Pan. Her portrayal of Peter Pan was so successful that she won the 1955 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical.

Martin's Captain Hook was Aussie Cyril Ritchard, who after a successful career on London's West End and in Hollywood, made quite a splash in Peter Pan on Broadway, winning the 1955 Best Actor Tony Award alongside co-star Mary Martin. He went on to a successful career on Broadway, winning his second Tony Award for 1959's The Pleasure of His Company. He also appeared in 1965's The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd and 1972's Sugar.

This most famous edition of Peter Pan was directed and choreographed by Broadway legend Jerome Robbins, who, by the time he worked on Peter Pan, was already a bankable name. In 1944, he made his Broadway choreographic debut with On the Town, currently enjoying a revival production with new dances inspired by Robbins' originals. He went on to choreograph Billion Dollar Baby, High Button Shoes, Miss Liberty, Call Me Madam and The King and I. He technically made his Broadway directing debut in 1945, working on a play called Common Ground by Edward Chodorov that played a modest run of 69 performances. His major directing debut came in 1954 with Jerry Ross, Richard Adler, George Abbott and Richard Bissell's The Pajama Game, which became a smash hit (Interestingly, The Pajama Game creative team featured two major dance figures from Broadway history; the choreographer from the original production was Bob Fosse). Five months after The Pajama Game opened on Broadway, Robbins opened Peter Pan at the Winter Garden Theatre, this time as both director and choreographer. After Peter Pan, Robbins worked on most of the productions that he is best remembered for today: 1957's West Side Story, 1959's Gypsy and 1964's Fiddler on the Roof.

Want to see the entire opening night Playbill to 1954's Peter Pan at the Winter Garden Theatre? That's available in the Vault!

1954's Peter Pan enjoyed a successful but modest 152-performance run at the Winter Garden. The show's run was shorter than expected because NBC paid to close the production and re-tool it for a live television broadcast March 7, 1955. It was broadcast as part of a program called "Producers' Showcase," a monthly series that would showcase a different producers' work for 90 minutes every final Monday of the month for three seasons. Musicals had been broadcast on television before (1944's The Boys from Boise, 1951's Amahl and the Night Visitors), but the Producer's Showcase broadcast of Peter Pan represented the first time a full-length musical was shown direct from Broadway and in full color (Producer's Showcase was created partially to promote the relatively then-new technology of color TV). Though the production was slightly re-configured to be performed on a sound stage, Jerome Robbins' original staging was presented along with Peter Larkin's Broadway sets and Motley's costumes. The entire original Broadway cast was presented with the exception of Joseph Stafford as Michael Darling; he was replaced by Tom Halloran. The live broadcast was seen by a reported 65 million people across the country, then the largest television audience for any one single program. Mary Martin won an Emmy Award for her performance. Unfortunately, the limitations of television technology from that time prevented the archival of this full-color broadcast. All we have from this historic event is what's called a kinescope. Essentially, they would point a 16mm camera at a television and archive live broadcasts by filming off of the television screen. As you can imagine, the quality of such records is less than ideal. Most disappointingly, kinescopes are only black and white, even when the broadcast they've archived was in color. Because of this, they couldn't simply re-play this broadcast whenever they wanted, as they would do today.

Mary Martin
Mary Martin

The enormous success of the first broadcast nevertheless demanded a repeat, so NBC re-mounted the entire production nine months later and showed it once again Jan. 9, 1956. The 1956 broadcast featured the same cast and physical production as the first broadcast, and was also presented as a part of Producer's Showcase in full color. Also as with the initial broadcast, only a kinescope recording of this broadcast exists today.

If you're ever in the New York City area and want to check out the kinescope prints of the first two Peter Pan broadcasts, you can find the 1955 broadcast at the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts, while the 1956 broadcast can be viewed at the Paley Center for Media.

Peter Pan was staged for television an unprecedented third time Dec. 8, 1960. The only difference between this third broadcast and the two that preceded it was the casting of the Darling children. As the original actors had outgrown their roles, they were replaced by Maureen Bailey as Wendy, Kent Fletcher as Michael and Joey Trent as John.

By 1960, live broadcasts were able to be preserved in color on videotape, as this broadcast was. As a result, this broadcast went on to be re-broadcast in 1963, 1966, 1973 and 1989. It was released on home video in 1990, though it is currently out of print. Its repeated television showings ensured that this production of Peter Pan was to become iconic, along with the performances of its stars, Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. In fact, since premiering on Broadway in 1954, every subsequent Broadway production of the Peter Pan story has been a revival of the 1954 Charlap/Leigh/Styne/Comden/Green musical version.

Peter Pan next appeared on Broadway in 1979, in a revival that starred Sandy Duncan as Peter Pan (Duncan received a 1980 Tony Award nomination for her portrayal). George Rose was her Captain Hook, and Beth Fowler portrayed Mrs. Darling. This production, while inspired by Jerome Robbins' original, featured new direction and choreography by Robert Iscove. The production played the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, current home to Motown the Musical. It played for two years, with a 554 performance run that makes it Broadway's longest-running production of Peter Pan. This production was nominated for Best Revival of a Musical at the 1980 Tony Awards. The entire opening night Playbill from Sandy Duncan's production is in the Vault!

Broadway's next major Peter Pan was former-olympian Cathy Rigby. She has had four Broadway engagements in the musical, playing the title role to three different Captain Hooks. The first two productions (a 1990 production at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and a 1991 production at the Minskoff, current home to The Lion King) featured Stephen Hanan and then J.K. Simmons as Captain Hook. These productions were directed by Fran Soeder and choreographed by Marilyn Magness. Both enjoyed brief but successful holiday runs. Rigby was nominated for a Best Actress Tony Award, and the 1990 production was nominated for Best Revival of a Musical.

Cathy Rigby
Cathy Rigby

Rigby's first Peter Pan opening night Playbill is available in full in the Vault.

Rigby appeared in a new production of Peter Pan, this time directed by Glenn Casale and choreographed by Patti Colombo, in 1998 at the Marquis Theatre (current home to The Illusionists - Witness the Future). This production featured Paul Schoeffler as Captain Hook and was again nominated for a Best Revival of a Musical Tony Award. The production, like Rigby's two previous Broadway productions of Peter Pan, played a holiday run. It returned to Broadway the following holiday season, this time playing the Gershwin Theatre (current home to Wicked). The resulting tour of this production was eventually filmed on stage for non-live broadcast on the A&E television network, a broadcast that is still available on DVD today.

Want to take a look at the entire opening night Playbill from Cathy Rigby's 1998 production of Peter Pan? You know where to find it.

Given Peter Pan's long history of television broadcasts, it seemed a natural fit when producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron announced that they would present a brand-new live production of Peter Pan on NBC as a follow-up to 2013's "The Sound of Music Live!" This production stars Allison Williams as Peter Pan and Christopher Walken as Captain Hook. It has been directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford.

In November, it was announced that this production would feature a number of changes to the well-known work. "Mysterious Lady" has been deleted, while three new songs, each adapted from existing tunes, have been added. "Vengeance," to be sung by Captain Hook and his Pirates, has been adapted with new lyrics from a song called "Ambition" from Do Re Mi. "Only Pretend," a new song for Wendy, has been adapted from "I Know About Love," also from Do Re Mi. "A Wonderful World Without Peter," a duel song between Hook and Peter, is adapted from "Something's Always Happening on the River" from Say, Darling. There will also be a new reprise of "Only Pretend" for the character of Mrs. Darling, as portrayed by Kelli O'Hara. All three original songs were written by Jule Styne, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, the songwriters who provided additional songs to the 1954 production of Peter Pan. The new lyrics prepared for these songs have been written by Amanda Green, a lyricist and composer whose work has been seen on Broadway in High Fidelity, Bring It On: The Musical and Hands on a Hardbody. She's also the daughter of original lyricist Adolph Green. Another major change being made for this new television broadcast is a new lyric to the song "Ugg-a-Wugg," now re-titled "True Blood Brothers." Working with Emmy-Award-winning classical composer Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate as a Native American consultant, the racially-insensitive original lyrics (which featured stereotypically-Native-American gibberish presented as legitimate Native American words) have been replaced with a legitimate Native American phrase and other new lyrics. Producer Neil Meron has stated publicly that he hopes and expects this particular change to become part of the standard performance-edition of the show, "now and forever."

Read more about the changes in the production here.

Peter Pan is a story that clearly resonates with people all over the world, which is why it continues to be produced and adapted today. There are other musicals that have been written from the story of Peter Pan, including a 1953 cartoon by Disney and stage works by Anthony Drewe and George Stiles, Ryan Scott Oliver, and many others. We even got a Wicked-style prequel with 2012's Peter and the Starcatcher, which starred Christian Borle as the Black Stache (the Captain Hook character). Appropriately, Christian Borle will appear in Thursday's "Peter Pan Live!"! broadcast as Mr. Darling, a character often double cast with Captain Hook, as well as Captain Hook's sidekick, Smee.

Look at the Playbillder for "Peter Pan Live!" here!

1954's Peter Pan continues to be one of the most iconic adaptations of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan" story, and with Thursday's NBC live broadcast poised to expose the work to a whole new generation of TV viewers, this promises to continue.

"Peter Pan Live!" will be broadcast nationwide Dec. 4 at 8/7c on NBC.

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