REVIEW: Peter Pan Live! Original Soundtrack of the NBC Television Event

Recording CoverBroadway Records took a double gamble by releasing the soundtrack to NBC's Peter Pan Live. By releasing a true soundtrack (rather than a pre-recorded cast album, as the previous year's Sound of Music Live did), they passed up any chance to sell the album to those of us curious to get a peek at the broadcast before airdate, and they staked their success on a positive reception of the broadcast itself.

While the television production had its moments, it largely seemed dead on arrival: neither the thrilling spectacle NBC dreamed of, nor the campy disaster hate-watchers hoped for. As the broadcast limped along, I couldn't imagine wanting to revisit this experience on a soundtrack album. I'm glad to report that I was wrong.

The best thing the soundtrack has going for it over the broadcast itself is its length: with no commercials and thankfully little dialogue, it clocks in at a trim 61 minutes. And with the songs taking center stage, some of the more delightful elements of the show that seemed minor in the three-hour context get a slightly larger spotlight. Yes, I am talking about Kelli O'Hara as Mrs. Darling, whose part was enlarged for this version to include simply beautiful renditions of three songs: "Tender Shepherd" (with an additional "B" section borrowed from "Distant Melody"), "Distant Melody" (taking the part customarily sung by Peter Pan), and a reprise of "Only Pretend," a new lyric by Amanda Green set to the melody of "I Know About Love" from Do Re Mi. The 38-piece orchestra is nothing to sneeze at either.

But even aside from Kelli's performance and the lavish orchestra elevating the entire album, nearly every song benefits from being divorced from the rest of the show. Christopher Walken's Captain Hook, who seemed downright stoned on the broadcast, comes across as sprightly and winning when the audio is divorced from his befuddled face and dead eyes. Allison Williams never quite masters the bravado necessary for "I've Gotta Crow" or "I'm Flying," but she puts over the ballads particularly well. Taylor Louderman offers a sweet innocence to Wendy in her two ballads. And of course, the various choruses of Broadway powerhouses as pirates, lost boys, and islanders ensure that all ensemble numbers radiate with vivacity.

Beyond the performances, the material either created or resurrected for this production will make this soundtrack a must-have for certain fans. "Only Pretend" seemed to get the best reaction among fans on social media, and it's definitely the best of the new songs. "Wonderful World Without Peter," a battle duet for Pan and Hook fashioned from "Something's Always Happening on the River" (from Say, Darling) is skippable, but "When I Went Home" (dropped prior to the Broadway opening of the original production) is a lovely artifact. Hook's new introductory number, "Vengeance," (using the tune of "Ambition" from Do Re Mi) was jarringly out of place in the show, but it comes across as a pleasant enough personality piece for Walken on the album. And, of course, the number that got the most pre-broadcast press, "True Blood Brothers" (formerly known as "Ugg-A-Wugg"), will reportedly be included in the licensing materials for all future productions of the show, so the recording here may prove helpful to high schools and community theaters in need of guidance on how to pronounce the new, authentically Cherokee lyrics.

The 44-page booklet (designed by Van Dean) offers lots of color photos, drawn from both the broadcast itself and the pre-show publicity shots. There's the requisite plot synopsis and lyrics to all the songs, and of course the cast list and orchestra list. Oddly, although the songs with new lyrics by Amanda Green are identified, there is no indication which numbers were written by the original team of Charlap and Leigh and which were added by Styne, Comden and Green when they were brought on board to beef up the score before the show's initial Broadway bow.


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