19 Things You Might Not Know About Peter Pan the Musical
By Abbey Stone
What’s the way to Neverland? Second to the right, and straight on ’til morning! Or, turn to NBC. Since 1955, the network has broadcast the Broadway musical version of J. M. Barrie’s story about the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up to the delight of children (and children-at-heart) across the nation. Before tuning in to the latest iteration of the musical, starring Allison Williams (Girls) and Christopher Walken (come on) tonight, arm yourself with these 19 little-known facts about the show.
1. The curtain rose on the first Broadway version of Peter Pan in 1905.
Nina Boucicault (Peter Pan) and Hilda Trevelyan (Wendy) in the original 1904 production. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
J. M. Barrie first wrote Peter Pan; or The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, for the stage in 1904. It premiered at the Duke of York's Theatre on December 27, 1904, and ran for 145 performances. While it continued to run in London (and would for decades), the show opened on the Great White Way the following year. While today we most often think of Peter Pan as a book, Barrie wouldn't write a novelization of his story until 1911; he called it Peter and Wendy.
2. Maude Adams was Broadway’s first Peter.
According to Slate, famed theater producer Charles Frohman—he also produced the New York premiere of The Importance of Being Earnest in 1895—insisted that Barrie cast his protégé, Maude Adams, in the title role. While another woman, Nina Boucicault, debuted as Peter in London in 1904 (Adams wasn’t available until the following summer), it was Frohman’s suggestion to cast a woman as Peter that led to the gender-bending casting tradition. Frohman reasoned that a man wouldn’t be able to convincingly play Peter (a young boy), but casting a real boy was out of the question since English law prohibited the appearance of minors onstage after 9:00 p.m.
3. The musical version we know and love today—and which NBC will Broadcast live tonight—made its Broadway debut in 1954.
According to Playbill, Peter Pan first appeared on Broadway in 1950. But because it only had five songs (written by Leonard Bernstein), it was more of a play with musical numbers than an actual musical. The first full-length musical production opened in 1954. It was directed by Jerome Robbins and starred Mary Martin as Peter Pan and Australian actor Cyril Ritchard as Captain Hook. While Robbins helmed productions of On the Town, The King and I, The Pajama Game, Gypsy, and Fiddler on the Roof, as well as choreographed for the New York City Ballet (of which he later became ballet master), he’s most well-known for conceiving, choreographing, and directing West Side Story.
4. Robbins brought in the big guns to spruce up the musical.
Most of the Peter Pan music was written by Mark “Moose” Charlap, with lyrics by Carolyn Leigh. But, after the show flopped in a pre-Broadway West Coast tour, Robbins enlisted the help of composer Jule Styne and lyricists Betty Comden and Adolph Green to beef up the score. They’re responsible for some of the play’s most memorable songs, including "Neverland," "Wendy," "Oh, My Mysterious Lady," "Ugg-a-wugg," "Distant Melody,” and "Captain Hook's Waltz."
5. Pan lyricists Comden and Green worked together longer than any other Broadway writing team in history.
Adolph Green and Betty Comden in 2001. (Gabe Palacio / Getty Images)
Betty Comden and Adolph Green met in 1938 in New York City and soon after, with Judy Tuvim (who would later change her name to Judy Holliday), Alvin Hammer, and John Frank, formed the performing group The Revuers. They would perform satirical song and dance shows at the Greenwich Village nightclub The Village Vanguard. In 1944, Comden and Green joined forces with Leonard Bernstein and Jerome Robbins to create On the Town. The rest, as they say, is history. The duo would go on to pen dozens of Broadway shows and movie musicals in Hollywood, including 1952’s Singing in the Rain.
In 1980, Comden and Green were named to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 1991, they received Kennedy Center Honors.
6. Jule Styne wrote a classic Christmas carol.
Legendary composer Jule Styne not only lent his talents to Peter Pan and created some of Hollywood’s and Broadway’s most enduring tunes (including songs for Gypsy, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and Funny Girl), he earned a spot in the Christmas canon. Styne wrote “Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!” in 1945.
7. Only one man has ever played Peter Pan in Robbins’ version of the show.
And he only sang one number. Originally an understudy, Jack Noseworthy flew as Peter in Jerome Robbins’ Broadway, an anthology tribute to Robbins’ work, in 1989 when Charlotte d’Amboise, the principal Peter Pan, was unable to take the stage.
Of course, Peter Pan has been played by male actors in other stage productions, most notably the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Wendy and Peter Pan and Peter and the Starcatcher.
8. Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard both won Tonys for their roles in the 1954 Broadway production.
Sadly, The Pajama Game—directed by George Abbott and Jerome Robbins and choreographed by Bob Fosse—was named Best Musical over Peter Pan that year. Martin would also win an Emmy for her portrayal of Peter in NBC’s 1955 live broadcast of the show—but more on that in a bit.
9. Cyril Ritchard was not only a pirate, but an elf.
He provided the voice for Elrond in the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit.
10. The 1954 Broadway production was a family affair for Mary Martin.
Martin’s daughter, Heller Halliday, played the role of Liza the maid in the original Broadway production and in the 1955 NBC broadcast.
11. NBC cut the original Broadway production of Robbins’ Peter Pan short in order to broadcast a live version of the show.
The original 1954 musical version of Peter Pan ran for 152 performances at the Winter Garden Theatre. This was much shorter than expected. According to Playbill, NBC paid to close the production early and re-tool the show for a live television broadcast.
12. Peter Pan was the first full-length Broadway production to air on color TV.
On March 7, 1955, NBC brought Peter Pan into the homes of millions of Americans. The show, with its original Broadway cast (with the exception of Michael Darling—Broadway’s Joseph Stafford was replaced by Tom Halloran), aired as part of NBC’s Producers’ Showcase series.
13. The original Peter Pan broadcast drew over 65 million viewers.
At the time, this was the largest television audience to tune in for any single program. (To compare, an estimated 108.4 million people watched the 2013 Super Bowl while the Friends series finale in 2004 drew an estimated 52.5 million pairs of eyes.)
14. The 2014 Peter Pan Live! will be the fourth live television performance of the musical.
After the mammoth success of NBC’s Peter Pan broadcast in 1955, the network restaged it again the following year. A new version, also starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard but with a new supporting cast, was broadcast in 1960. The 1960 broadcast was released on VHS in 1990, therefore making it the version most near-and-dear to Millennials’ and Gen Xers’ hearts.
15. Allison Williams is the fourth woman to don Peter’s green tights.
Mary Martin, Sandy Duncan, and Cathy Rigby (in the 1979 and 1990 Broadway revivals, respectively) portrayed Robbins’ version of the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up before her.
16. Mary Martin and Maureen Bailey (who played Wendy in the 1960 version) would later reunite on stage.
Bailey joined the cast (as an ensemble member and Liesl understudy) of The Sound of Music on Broadway during its 1959-1963 run. Martin played Maria.
17. Sondra Lee (Tiger Lily in the 1960 version) published a memoir in 2009 called I’ve Slept with Everybody.
In it, she insinuates that she had a romantic relationship with Marlon Brando—and publishes love letters and postcards that seem to prove it!
18. J. K. Simmons played Captain Hook.
J. K. Simmons (Whiplash, The Closer, Juno) danced the tarantella as Captain Hook opposite Cathy Rigby in the 1991 Broadway production. He also played Mr. Darling.
19. In fact, Captain Hook and Mr. Darling are always played by the same actor—except in the 2014 version.
The double casting trick, in which Captain Hook and Mr. Darling are played by the same person, provides a clever parallelism between the reality of the Darlings' London and the dream world that is Neverland. It’s only fitting that the disciplinarian father would transform into the villainous pirate.
NBC abandoned this trope for its 2014 broadcast of Peter Pan Live!, in which Christopher Walken will play Captain Hook. But to keep the spirit (if not the significance) of the double casting alive, Christian Borle will play both Mr. Darling (opposite Kelli O’Hara’s Mrs. Darling) and Hook’s sidekick Smee.