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10/16/11

Why Does Anyone Like Peter Pan?

I should start by saying this post is apropos of absolutely nothing, except the fact that I tend to get random songs stuck in my head. Sometimes it will be a song that I haven't even heard in about a decade. Sometimes I'll just have a line that will loop around for days on end, which can only have hope of being quelled by hearing the original or learning all the lyrics or oversaturating myself with it until my brain gets bored and gives up.


Unfortunately, the song to most recently haunt me is the "Pow Wow Song" (actually called "Ugg-a-Wugg" *shudder*) from the Peter Pan musical. Where it did come from? And why?? Obviously, I wanted to be rid of it as soon as possible. So I looked up the lyrics which also sent me to a video of the song from the Mary Martin production. I am including it after the cut for your reference. Consider yourself warned, click at your own risk.



I'm sure we can agree on at least two things here:
1) It's mildly to moderately racist. But that's going to be the least of my complaints.
2) That is one of the most annoying, least melodically pleasurable songs ever.

The more I've been thinking about it, the more I've come to the conclusion that Peter Pan is conceptually one of the worst musicals of all time.

Just for context, I was a stage crew geek in high school. (Also art & music nerd) It's just about all I did and probably learned more from that than my formal education. But we took our work very seriously and put on the best shows we possible could - considering the musicals during my stint were Grease, Peter Pan and Oliver! But I'll try to keep focus. We had an excellent Captain Hook, but that was mostly because the actor (whose name I readily know, but will omit out of respect) was outstanding. Other than that, all I remember was a lot of yelling & that the bedroom bay windows almost fell on me during a tech rehearsal.

Anyway, all technical attributes - musical theory, acting, production, etc - aside, musicals are basically story versus songs. If both work, it's more or less good, if either fails the other has to work harder to pick up the slack to make it good. (In the instance of Grease, I can't decide which is failing harder) In Peter Pan you have the story of a boy who won't grow up and takes a trio of privileged English kids away to a fairy tale land of no consequence, where pixies live or die based on our faith alone. Then they realize they'd miss their parents too much if they stayed and go home, the end. Sure, ok, why not? The songs...let's just say they don't even get past "tolerable". You know how I said all I remember is yelling? Obviously the cast of Peter Pan is largely children and most of the songs done with the ensemble is just LOUD. (Kids singing forte = YELLING) And songs like "I"ve Got to Crow" is literally just noise by the end. Seriously, does someone find this cute?

And then we get to the largest problem. Peter Pan is a show about a 12-year-old boy, written to be portrayed and sung by an adult woman, even though rest of the cast is predominantly children. I guess the assumption is that Pan is a super femmey and/or androgynous boy (which I have no qualms against, mine you) who would be completely indistinguishable from an adult woman. Turns out this isn't true, through. Most productions don't even try to hide the true sex of it's starring actress, via binding, etc. There's never a moment where the magic of the show transcends reality and allows the audience to be convinced that the actress is actually a prepubescent boy.

So what's even the point? The lead role requires no real acting or singing ability and isn't even passable cross-dressing. I'm convinced the only reason people like it is out of a sense of tradition and obligation. Just like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. And at least they have Rockettes. Kicklines, yo. Kicklines.


Read more: http://www.blogdoctor.me/2007/02/expandable-post-summaries.html#ixzz1Ygp5vxLJ

2 comments:

  1. Ok, for starters, that's an AWFUL version of that song.
    The play was written in '54 so racial sensitivity hadn't been invented yet.
    "Peter Pan" does kind of suck musically but it is FAR from the worst musical ever. FAR.

    The concept of "Peter Pan" is a reasonably profound concept and relevant to men (really, woman don't usually have a problem growing up.) throughout their lives. It's why it stays popular.
    I would say "conceptually" Peter Pan is actually really fun as a musical. It's got adventure, magic and heroism, which is more interesting than the majority of musicals which are usually just some lame romance. MUSICALLY on the other hand, it is pretty weak.

    If you want to talk about contenders for conceptually the worst musical ever, you need to consider "Batboy: the Musical" or "Anne Frank: the Musical".

    Also, the "book" is the story and dialogue, not the music.

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  2. Thanks for the one correct - edit made.

    I never said it was the worst, just amongst the worst - especially to be considered such a classic by some. The story of Peter Pan is perhaps more interesting in the original story - but the play is weak on many levels, superficial, never really getting to the heart of any sincere emotional response.

    I understand the time period of the racism, which is why I mentioned it, but didn't fixate on it. I think it's important to acknowledge those things, it's what separates then from now & reminds us where we came from. So while I won't dwell on it, I don't just shrug and say "It was the times" - obviously not everyone was a racist or we never would have evolved the amount we have.

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