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PETER PAN ON STAGE AND SCREEN (posted 06-30-2013)

A boy who could fly, pirates, mermaids, lost boys and a young girl swept from her nursery to a far-off land, just past the stars … The audience sitting in London’s Duke of York Theatre in 1904 had no idea they were about to meet indelible characters who would soon be loved the world over: the brave and adventurous Wendy Darling; the terrifying and comical Captain Hook; and Peter himself, the boy who never grew up. Although he first appeared as a character in a section of J.M. Barrie’s The Little White Bird – a 1902 novel written for adults – Peter Pan burst forth, fully formed in the figure of adult actress Nina Boucicault in Barrie’s stage play Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up.  In London alone, the play was reprised over 10,000 times in the first 50 years of its release. 

Mr. Barrie later adapted and expanded the play into his 1911 novel Peter and Wendy. The boy who fights pirates and never ages has since appeared in everything from a Disney animated film to stage musicals and live-action features, and has even been a spokesperson of a number products (a brand of peanut butter, a bus company and a record label).

For American audiences, Peter Pan became incredibly popular in the early 1950s when an animated feature, two Broadway shows, and a live television broadcast were all released within a five-year period. A 1950 adaptation of Peter Pan was staged on Broadway that included five songs, with music and lyrics by the great American composer Leonard Bernstein. The show starred Jean Arthur as Peter, and horror icon Boris Karloff in the dual roles of Hook and Mr. Darling. 

Walt Disney and his animators put their stamp on the story in the classic 1953 animated feature.  The film premiered at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival then opened in wide-release in the U.S., ultimately becoming the highest grossing film of that year. The character of Peter was voiced by 15-year-old film actor Bobby Driscoll (one of the first male actors to play the role), and Disney's animators gave audiences the first physical representation of the brave and vengeful fairy, Tinker Bell, who had appeared previously on stage as a light or a sound effect. Rumor has it that the animation team used film star Marilyn Monroe as a template for Tinker Bell’s physique, but the truth is that live-action model Margaret Kerry was used to design the character. The animated Tink was such a success that she has since become an unofficial mascot for the Walt Disney Corporation. 

On October 20, 1954, one year after the Disney film, a musical version of Peter Pan opened at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York, scheduled for a limited run of 152 performances. The stage show had been sold to NBC during its out-of-town try out in Los Angeles, ensuring the Broadway run would be a financial success despite its limited engagement. The show was a hit, winning Tony Awards® for stars Mary Martin (Peter) and Cyril Ritchard (Captain Hook). 

The 1954 show was televised live and in color on NBC on March 7, 1955, to a then record-breaking television audience of 65 million viewers. Mary Martin went on to win an Emmy for her performance. Since then the musical has been revived many times, including a 1979 production starring Sandy Duncan and numerous versions starring Cathy Rigby. The musical’s many Captain Hooks have included, among others, Rip Taylor, Frank Goshin (who played the Riddler on the televised series Batman), and celebrated character actor J..K Simmons.

In 1991, director Steven Spielberg brought a new twist to the Peter Pan story with his film Hook. The film starred Robin Williams as a now grown-up Peter Pan, and Dustin Hoffman as a revenge-minded Captain Hook who returns to kidnap Peter Pan’s children. Australian movie director P.J. Hogan’s 2003 movie Peter Pan became the first live-action film of J.M. Barrie’s play to cast a young boy in the title role.  One year later Columbia Pictures released Finding Neverland, a semi-biographical film about J. M. Barrie and his relationship with the family who inspired the creation of Peter Pan. The 2004 film was nominated for several Oscars (including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Barrie) and won one for Best Musical Score.

Most recently, Peter appeared back on Broadway in the Tony Award®-winning play Peter and the Star Catcher.  Based on the novel by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, Rick Elice’s 2012 prequel to Barrie’sPeter and Wendy tells the back story of Peter Pan and Captain Hook. This comedy-drama can be seen on tour in Dallas at the Winspear Opera House this September.

And now, Dallas audiences are the first to experience the newest re-imagining of the adventures of Peter and Wendy. The acclaimed creative team of Rajiv Joseph, Kirsten Childs and Bill Sherman have conceived a visceral, youthful and contemporary re-telling of Mr. Barrie’s beloved story. For the first time in a major stage production, Peter and Wendy will be portrayed by age-appropriate youth actors. This exciting new production may seem worlds away from Edwardian London, but Barrie’s themes of escape, loss, love and growing remain at the core of this unique musical adventure. This Peter Pan will take off in Dallas, and who knows where he may “fly” to next …

November 2017
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