5:00am PT by Ashley Lee
'Peter Pan Live!' Cast on Hate-Viewing: "You Cannot Watch Cynically"
Watch, scoff, tweet. Such is the ritual of "hate-watching" these days — particularly, this time last year, when Sound of Music Live! aired on NBC.
Although critically panned, the three-hour musical starring Carrie Underwood, Stephen Moyer, Laura Benanti, Audra McDonald and Christian Borle was a ratings hit — 18.5 million viewers watched live, with that figure growing to nearly 22 million with DVR — and an endless source for trending topics on Twitter.
"Last year, we all wanted the Sound of Music to be the best thing ever! And it was good," Borle told The Hollywood Reporter. "There were definitely a lot of reactions to it, and we were all hyperconscious of it. Twittergate 2013.
"I don't mind going on record saying I was kind of mesmerized by the actors in our community who were so snarky about Sound of Music on Twitter," says Borle, who played Max in NBC's Sound of Music and has the dual role of Mr. Darling and Smee in Peter Pan. "I just thought, 'Don't you ever want to work for NBC? They're all reading this shit!' It's unbelievable to me. And, just be nice. I don't understand the impulse to tear down. Everyone has an opinion — I have an opinion about everything. I turn to someone in my living room, I say something snarky, and then it's over. But this idea that we have to share this kind of meanness? I actually find it fascinating, and I welcome it. I think when people show their true colors like that, it's helpful for me to be like, 'Oh, there you are.' "
As for Girls actress Allison Williams, who stars as the title character, she's more accustomed to Twitter's sarcastic commentary. She believes viewers of their politically correct version of the J.M. Barrie tale "cannot watch cynically."
"They have some relationship to it, and they're protective of Peter Pan," said Williams, who vowed to take care of the iconic character. "People will hear the opening strings of music that they know deep, deep in their heart, and it'll make them nostalgic, and they'll become a kid again, and they'll crumble. And they might get one hate tweet out, and then we won't hear from them for a while because they'll have reluctantly been sucked into the sense memory that will hopefully be Peter Pan."
"If you do [watch it cynically], you're going to hate it; there's no question," she added. "It falls apart instantly. There's a three-dimensional shadow! Where do you even begin?!"
Borle and Kelli O'Hara, who plays Mrs. Darling, noted that Peter Pan's cross-section of theater and television isn't as clear-cut as viewers at home might anticipate. Changes that affect the performance's energy include the fact that the musical is comprised of acts separated by commercial breaks rather than scenes building up to a traditional intermission, and the fact that it isn't performed on a single stage with set props, but on separately built sets around the studio. Plus, there's no live audience during the broadcast.
"This is a different beast, where you're not playing to any kind of close-up or particular shot out of 15 that you get to take. You're not trying to perfect it, but you're not playing to the audience. So what you do is, you play the story, the moment, the scene. I'm hoping there's some sort of magic to it," O'Hara said. "When you do theater, you give yourself so much to it, anything. You believe in it — you have to to do it — and if you get that [negative] reaction, you have to keep believing in it, and it's really hard."
So why did so many gladly trash Sound of Music Live! online last year? "Some of those people who might have been snarky about it probably wanted to be part of it!" O'Hara said with a laugh. "I've known this since the second grade with the mean girls — you know that usually, it's because you want to be part of it and you're not, and when you're on the outside of something, it's really easy to put it down."
Regardless of viewers' potential capacity to hate-watch this year's event, Williams shrugged, "I am doing this once — it is three hours of my life, and then it's over, and that's it." And for theater (and Smash alum) Borle, "It's just going to be what it's going to be, and then it's going be over, so there's actually no room for investing any kind of fear or worry in what anyone's going to think."
Peter Pan Live! airs on Dec. 4 at 8 p.m. on NBC.