Well, Peter Pan LIVE! finally came out. And since I’ve been tracking this project on my blog, I thought I’d have a look-see and report back for ya’ll about how it all went down. That’s right: I watched Peter Pan LIVE! so you don’t have to!
Well, firstly, I must report that it was NOT TERRIBLE. This was actually a very serviceable production of the least interesting musical in the canon. Though, after last time, our collective bar was set pretty low.
I actually want to talk about the two things about this production that I think are noteworthy:
1) Allison Williams.
Well, Mary Martin is a hard act to follow. Here’s the thing: Allison Williams can sing. There’s no denying it. She can also act and dance. Kind of.
By which, I mean, she acted like a TV actor. Which is fine! But when you have to run around singing about your shadow, those subtle eyebrows and half-smirks just seem a little, well, weird. Like sort of dead. Her acting choices are small, for the camera, which is weird when she’s singing and dancing. This is why most movie musicals do long shots for the numbers, because it’s weird to stare directly into someone’s face while they sing at you.
This is the problem that so plagued the most recent film production of Les Miserables: singing in a musical is not literally happening (unless it’s one of those nightclub scenes) to the characters. People don’t sing their thoughts; this is a metaphor for thinking or speaking. This is what thought or action WOULD LOOK LIKE if abstracted into the size and shape of the emotions underneath. Which is why you can’t shove a camera up a singer’s face, because the emotions are too big for “reality.” To act a song, you can’t act realistically, you are acting a theatrical abstraction. You have to do theatre-acting to sell it. Poor Hugh Jackman sings and acts the heck out of Jean Valjean, but I can’t take him seriously — there’s just too much snot. You see what I mean?
In other words, Ms. Williams is a brilliant TV actor. And that’s why her performance didn’t work.
What is with these audiences?! They are just not into this show!
This show was, like The Sound of Music LIVE!, performed on a barren sound stage. O, ye gods, when will they learn? Taking the audience away makes the whole enterprise so… sterile.
When you’re watching a play, the pauses are filled laughs, with breath. The audience breathes with you. That’s a part of the show’s momentum: you haven’t lost the drive of the thing as long as there is some sound, some breathing. Even sitcoms realize this, thus the manufactured laugh-track. But not Peter Pan LIVE!, Oh, no! They insist on this dead cold performance space. It’s like watching the magic of live theatre, but without the magic.
It should be noted that this production lost a significant audience since the last time this was attempted, and (rightfully, in this blogger’s opinion) garnered better reviews. Progress? I’m not sure…
In my view, there seems a pretty easy fix: just do the same tired thing again, but do it in a theatre, with an audience, and film it.
Same endeavor, just, well, live.