Days after “Peter Pan Live!” underwhelmed audience members on NBC, we are left with real-life lost boys (and girls) defending yet another revival that need not be revived in the manner that it was televised. I have noticed that the people who defend “Peter Pan Live!” are the same exact people who defended “The Sound of Music Live!” last year: Older, nostalgic types and/or theater lovers. Ask either of these types of people what they thought about this latest rendition of “Peter Pan,” which starred Allison Williams of “Girls” as Peter and Christopher Walken as Captain Hook, and many will tell you it was great.
However, because of their love for this dated type of performance, they can see past the miscasting, mishaps, the stolen elements and, hell, even the lip syncing. These people are so committed to the “magic” of theater classics they will fight to the death to defend it from harsh criticism that the clear majority has delivered. Heck, just look at the ratings of this year’s live televised theater performance compared to last year’s. The people have spoken.
The one argument I hear over and over and over and over again from “Peter Pan Live!” supporters is that these types of productions will bring theater to a new generation and inspire them to get involved in the art form. Sadly, I think so many people are stuck in the past that they don’t really understand how children these days actually see the theater (or the world for that matter). Kids practically have computers strapped to their forehead by the time they are walking. How is swinging from wires magical to a kid who is old enough to process the idea that TV is a dated device? I mean, it was more magical in the 1950s, especially since there was no HD to call your bluff.
No, in this day in age, it is foolish for us to underestimate the speed at which young minds are developing. Each generation expects more than the last because each generation has more than the last one could have ever dreamed up. Growing up in a world inundated with technology, I can only assume one of the following videos is magical to a person not old enough to have a strong grasp on the past.
People say that theater is a dying art, and that may be true because we are too attached to what is has been rather than being committed to what it could become. It’s productions like Broadway’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” that understand this. Its staging is a rare mix of conventional elements with some rather new technological components, wowing audiences of all ages. If we want the children of the 21st century — with their short attention spans and all — to embrace live performance, we have to embrace the things that trigger a positive response from them.
Sadly, the magic of yesterday isn’t necessarily the magic of tomorrow. It’s not going to be found by constantly reviving old works in the way they were originally produced, nor will it be found by producing original work that feels like it was written in the past. If we continue looking down the road, though, we might just find a new recipe for pixie dust.
Ricky Dunlop is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine and a writer, actor and comedian residing in New York City.