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NBC’s second foray into live television and live theater brought Peter Pan to life, reinvented Captain Hook with Christopher Walken “Walkenizing” the role and, overall, didn’t end up being the hate-watching spectacle many thought it would be.
A great deal of that staving-off-disaster element came from star Allison Williams giving a very solid performance that, as the production sagged in the middle, stood out all the more. If there were problems in Peter Pan Live! — and there were —Williams had precious little to do with them.
The rest of the glue was provided by the inimitable Walken, who was simultaneously playing himself and playing Captain Hook, though for some long stretches one couldn’t be sure if he was forgetting lines left and right or just letting the play breathe.
Seriously, you can’t underestimate the Walken Effect. If you don’t like him, well, this was not the three-hour musical for you, because during vast stretches of it Walken seemed to be doing something else entirely than his fellow singers and actors. But for those who love the Cult of Christopher, that level of odd behavior, moments of outright weirdness and his own brand of playing cool in chaos was precisely what made NBC’s gambit work.
It was a night where everything else about the play was shunted to the side as Williams and Walken grabbed your attention. Everything that could go wrong didn’t go wrong and that’s a credit to the myriad people behind the scenes who pulled it off.
Yes, a handful of the act breaks seemed oddly timed or limp, then burst into what were inevitably commercials for Walmart that were riffing on the Peter Pan theme. But mostly, everything else worked. The wires and rigging had no errors — which is, let’s be honest, no mean feat. Williams glided to precisely where she was supposed to. The Tinkerbell effect — lighting — was flawless and the overall lighting of the scenes veered from dark to shocking color but never was there a scene where production troubles reminded the audiences that this was live (well, at least live on the East Coast).
Not that all the songs worked. The middle sagged a bit after a rousing start — a start where, no doubt, much of the live-tweeting and snarking Twitter audience (guilty) was anxiously awaiting some kind of live screwup or for Williams to miss notes or stumble. It never happened and that’s exactly when Williams solidified that she was in control.
Actually, an argument could be made that Williams was at her best in the duller middle portion of the three-hour event, when her magnetism, singing and commitment to being Peter shone above the other castmembers or lackluster numbers. It was essential for Williams to be the star there and hold it together. She did just that.
Meanwhile, the Walken spectacle afforded everybody else something to live for. He was curiously off the beat, off the pace of the other actors and while he might be described elsewhere as distracted or lost, it seemed more a case of Walken Being Walken. If you understand that, then you should have watched. And if you did watch, then his performance under the spell of himself surely made anything else tolerable.
So it was a night where Williams and Walken, at disparate ends of the live performance, gave a lot to their roles and to the success of the night. It wasn’t flawless (and if you factor in the moments when Walken seemed to be particularly awash in the lights, maybe you’ll be crueler about the overall quality), but it was entertaining enough for three hours of live song and dance.
That’s a pretty good Thursday indeed, and NBC will no doubt, ratings willing, do this again very soon.
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