Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Life Upon the Wicked Stage

Last night, NBC ran the second in what, with luck, will continue to be their series of live televised broadcasts of classic American musicals. Last year, it was “The Sound of Music Live”. This year, “Peter Pan Live”.

Mild irony alert: I missed last night’s appearance of Christopher Walken as Captain Hook because … I was running a choir rehearsal.

Ya gotta do what ya gotta do, I guess.

Although in a way, I really didn’t miss it. When I got home from rehearsal, it was still in the process of wrapping up. I climbed onto the local computer and checked in on my online social media world – and got the idea of what had gone on. As I scrolled down in my News Feed, the News was very clear:

The production was lame.

It was also great.

It really depended on whose comments I was reading at any given moment.

It is … a puzzlement!”

I have been known to live-blog a televised event or two. The Super Bowl. The Presidential Inauguration. Spike TV’s holiday Star Wars marathon. The local Conservation Commission’s meeting on cable access.

Okay, that last one I made up. I went to that one live, before I had a mobile Internet device. And oh, the live-blogging that might have transpired. Good thing it didn’t, in retrospect.

Which, in an odd way, is the point here.

With live-blogging comes snark. Seemingly, with almost everything up to and including State of the Union addresses, comes snark.

Sometimes, the snark is great entertainment. Sometimes, it’s counterproductive only in that “look, that kid is trying hard to sing that song and we should encourage because for heaven’s sake, she’s four years old, cut her a break, hey?” way.

Why do you guys gotta act like there’s a war on?!”

Sometimes at the same time as being great punchlines, the snark is legitimate and honest critique: that was an unfortunate choice of wardrobe … does he know he’s addressing adults? … you cross-checked that guy four times and you didn’t think he’d come back at you? …

I saw a bit of “The Sound of Music Live” last year, and presenting the role of Maria was Carrie Underwood, who rose to fame via “American Idol” and seemed to be more of a publicity hire than a merit hire, at least to the various musical theater professionals who populate my Facebook news feed. She was striving mightily, and it’s true, there is both risk and reward in live television, never mind live televised musical theater where you cannot go back and run that tune again.

But I imagined a small legion of Carrie Underwood fans tuning in because they knew her, and ended up knowing that “The Sound of Music” was, you know, a thing.

I can’t criticize that strategy on the part of NBC. Let’s just say that as a kid, I discovered a few other worthy artistic projects strictly because they featured a certain guy who had previously played a pointy-eared Vulcan.

And this year, the word was that Captain Hook was going to be played by an actor whose range, as far as I know, is “a great Christopher Walken impression and exactly nothing else”. This weekend, I plan to scour YouTube for his performance from last night. As I posted when I first read that Mr. Walken was going to portray the good Captain:

‘… I–! … hate I hate I, hate Peter. PAN!’”

But I digress. And for all I know, Walken may have nailed it. Or “made it his own”. Or provided the audience with many great unintentional laughs. Either way, guaranteed someone experienced Neverland because they’d been a big fan of “The Deer Hunter” or “Pulp Fiction” or, dear heaven, “A View to a Kill”. And again, NBC was counting on that.

It has to be drummed in your dear little ear…”

True, the casting could have included an actor or two with some previous Broadway experience, to satisfy those of us who would prefer Great Performances full of bona fide tread-the-boards Skill Sets.

But if Chris Walken or Carrie Underwood or, hypothetically, Pee Wee Herman drags the viewers in, raises the ratings, and encourages NBC to do this sort of thing more than twice in a row … so be it.

This, from the fellow (me) who positively cringed when the Drum Corps International finals broadcast, in the early 1990s, featured color commentary by legendary sports broadcaster Curt Gowdy. To be perfectly honest, Gowdy suffered from a combined case of “didn’t do his homework regarding ‘what is this marching band (oi!) thing?’” and “talks about everything using professional sports cliches”. He was abysmal, and somehow DCI chose to keep him into the broadcast for what felt like seventeen summers in a row. (Actually just five.) But they did so hoping that average Americans might hear the voice and stick with the show for a while, and get sucked in.

To some, young man, my charms have far from waned.”

Because as happens when time passes and the current generation is, in a great many ways, far removed from the past. There are far too many American kids who have no idea what this means:

Liza! Where the devil are my slippers?”

Or this:

Shall I tell you what I think of you? You’re spoiled!”

Or this:

Tote dat barge! Lift that bale! Git a little drunk, an’ you land in jail…”

So, while I don’t know how “Peter Pan Live” went, last night, except that some of my friends thought it was an embarrassment and others posted pictures of their kids watching the broadcast in costume (I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one with friends like this, nationwide!) … and while I’m sure that a lot of Broadway professionals were probably rightly thinking, “who greenlit this casting decision, that lighting decision, this makeup job, that flying rig, this choice of scenes to cut,” etc. etc. … with any luck, NBC will get the opportunity to screw up many more classic American musicals.

[UPDATE: This just in, as of this very morning: NBC has announced that it’ll be “The Music Man Live” in 2015. Me? I’m lobbying for “The King and I Live”, but I have very little say in the matter. Somehow I don’t think “Cabaret Live” or “Hair Live” are in the pipeline anytime soon, which is a damn shame. Oh well…]

Because what American stage producers in the 1940s and 1950s did when they combined the concepts of operetta, vaudeville and gesamtkunstwerk is unique in the world, and some of the particular instances of that art form are among the truly towering works that humanity has ever come up with.

And more people need to know that “Oklahoma” and “South Pacific” exist, let alone what they say.

So, some of us need to take a deep breath, mutter, “okay then, Walken,” and know that if this morning, one kid went to elementary school and said to their teacher or friends, “did you SEE Peter Pan FLY last NIGHT?!”, it’ll have been worth it.

After all, “I’m Flying” is just a gateway to …

Life Upon the Wicked Stage” … “The Little Things You Do Together” …

You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” … “A Boy Like That” …

You Were Dead, You Know” … “It Ain’t Necessarily So” …

Children Will Listen” … “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” …

…I got a little more than dough ridin’ on this one.”


December 5, 2014 - Posted by | arts, celebrity, music, social media, television | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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