Weatherford Democrat

Community News Network

January 24, 2014

Why is Peter Pan usually played by a woman?

Earlier this week, NBC announced plans to follow their hugely successful live version of "The Sound of Music" with a live adaptation of the musical version of "Peter Pan." The choice seems like a no-brainer: Back in 1955, the network aired a live broadcast of the Broadway production starring Mary Martin to 65 million viewers, and that version has since become a beloved cultural institution through subsequent airings and home video.

What is surprising is the suggested cast. NBC Entertainment's chairman initially joked that he wants Miley Cyrus for the title role, then "hinted" that Peter Pan may be played by a male actor instead. This is a big deal to fans, since the character is nearly always played by a woman. Why have so few men stepped into the role of the eternally young boy?

Initially, the interests of a producer, the logistics of casting, and even English law may have played a part. After that, it became tradition. In his 1979 book, "J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story Behind Peter Pan," English writer and director Andrew Birkin recounts the backstory for the first stage productions. Broadway producer Charles Frohman enthusiastically agreed to produce the play, and he made a couple of suggestions to the author. First, that it be titled, simply, "Peter Pan"; Barrie's working title was "The Great White Father," which is what Barrie has the Indians call Peter. (That phrase has uncertain origins but was - and is - used by some Native Americans to refer to white leaders.) Second, Frohman asked that, in America, the starring role of Peter be played by his protégé, Maude Adams. Frohman reasoned that a man would be wrong for the part, and if they cast a boy, the other children "would have to be scaled down in proportion." English law prohibited the use of minors under 14 on stage after 9 p.m. So a woman it was.

Nina Boucicault, the sister of the show's director Dion Boucicault, was tapped for the lead in England, and she originated the role in December of 1904. (Adams wasn't available to work until the following summer, and so Frohman, "impatient to see the play produced," set up the West End production with Boucicault first, in time for Christmas.)

As Birkin explained to me via email, actresses Cecilia Loftus and Pauline Chase were cast in the seasons following the initial London production, and "even the 1924 silent movie had a girl - Betty Bronson - playing Peter." From there, casting a woman for stage adaptations became the norm, and the majority of prominent productions have seen a female in the title role.

Jerome Robbins' musical version, a vehicle for Mary Martin, extended this tradition. Only one man, Jack Noseworthy, has played this version of Peter on Broadway, and he was an understudy in Jerome Robbins' "Broadway," an anthology of musical numbers from various shows (Charlotte d'Amboise was the principal Peter Pan). Only one song featured the impish boy character.

There have been a few recent exceptions. Since the 1980s, the Royal Shakespeare Company has frequently employed adult male actors in its production of the play, and is currently doing so with actor Sam Swann. The Broadway and off-Broadway productions of the "prequel" to Barrie's story, "Peter and the Starcatcher," featured male actors. And in nearly every film adaptation, Peter has been played (or voiced) by a male.

According to Birkin, Barrie always wished to see a boy play Peter on stage, though he never lived to see it occur. (In 1921, he tried to convince Charlie Chaplin to direct and star in a screen version. Chaplin considered it, but the film never came to fruition.) If NBC does wind up casting a male in the part, it will join those other exceptions as a fulfillment of the author's wishes.

What youthful guy - aside from the supposedly retired Justin Bieber - would have the star power to pull in ratings the way Carrie Underwood did for "The Sound of Music"? None come to mind. But Birkin doesn't think age really matters. "It's the spirit that's important rather than the letter," he says. "I always loved Tyrone Guthrie's comment, that any actor playing Peter must be 'as delicate as a moth, as deadly as a bomb.' "



 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • linda-ronstadt.jpg Obama had crush on First Lady of Rock

    Linda Ronstadt remained composed as she walked up to claim her National Medal of Arts at a White House ceremony Monday afternoon.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Can black women have it all?

    In a powerful new essay for the National Journal, my friend Michel Martin makes a compelling case for why we need to continue the having-it-all conversation.

    July 29, 2014

  • 'Rebel' mascot rising from the dead

    Students and alumni from a Richmond, Va.-area high school are seeking to revive the school's historic mascot, a Confederate soldier known as the "Rebel Man," spurring debate about the appropriateness of public school connections to the Civil War and its icons.

    July 28, 2014

  • Facebook continues moneymaking trend

    Facebook seems to have figured out - for now at least - the holy grail for all media right now: how to make money selling mobile ads.

    July 24, 2014

  • 072214 Diamond Llama 1.jpg Llama on the loose corralled in Missouri town

    A llama on the lam cruised Main Street Tuesday before it mistook a resident’s fenced backyard for a place to grab a meal and freshen up.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • mama.jpg What we get wrong about millennials living at home

    If the media is to be believed, America is facing a major crisis. "Kids," some age 25, 26, or even 30 years old, are living out of their childhood bedrooms and basements at alarmingly high numbers. The hand-wringing overlooks one problem: It's all overblown.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

Must Read
Top News
House Ads
AP Video
Obama Chides House GOP for Pursuing Lawsuit New Bill Aims to Curb Sexual Assault on Campus Russia Counts Cost of New US, EU Sanctions 3Doodler Bring 3-D Printing to Your Hand Six PA Cops Indicted for Robbing Drug Dealers Britain Testing Driverless Cars on Roadways Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle At Least 20 Chikungunya Cases in New Jersey Raw: Obama Eats Ribs in Kansas City In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast Raw: Otters Enjoy Water Slides at Japan Zoo NCAA Settles Head-injury Suit, Will Change Rules Raw: Japanese Soldiers Storm Beach in Exercises Raw: Weapons Fire Hits UN School in Gaza Raw: Rocket Launches Into Space With Cargo Ship Broken Water Main Floods UCLA Two Women Narrowly Avoid Being Hit by Train Crayola Announces Family Attraction in Orlando
Poll

The City of Weatherford is considering an ordinance that would ban smoking inside restaurants and enclosed areas where food is prepared, sold or consumed. Do you agree with this proposal?

Yes
No
Undecided
Don't care
     View Results