The Denver Center for the Performing Arts drew an all-time record of nearly 600,000 theatregoers last year. But even at that pace, it would take 36 years for the DCPA to equal the number of viewers who tuned in last December to watch NBC’s widely assailed live telecast of The Sound of Music.
The opportunity television holds to encourage, inspire or turn off future live theatregoers is enormous. The Sound of Music drew more than 21 million viewers, giving NBC its highest Thursday night audience since the Friends series finale in 2004.
By comparison, consider that Broadway set an all-time record with a combined annual audience of “just” 12.2 million. That’s every Broadway theatre, every night – for a year. NBC attracted 78 percent more people in just three hours.
Social-media haters – mostly caustic theatre kids themselves – were vicious in their assessment of country idol Carrie Underwood’s portrayal of Maria Von Trapp. Their snark actually spawned the new pop-culture term “hate-watching.”
“Plain and simple: Mean people need Jesus,” Underwood responded via Twitter a day after the live special. “They will be in my prayers tonight.” She cited a Biblical passage attributed to the apostle Peter.
This Thursday (Dec. 4), NBC is pinning its hopes on another Peter … as in, the boy who would never grow up.
For Peter Pan Live, NBC hopes to build on last year’s audience with a stronger presentation. That should give anyone with a vested interest in growing live theatre audiences a reason to root for its success.
I mean … just imagine if all those people actually like this one.
Actually, at least one person did like The Sound of Music. Actor Lacey Connell’s 6-year-old niece watched the whole thing, “and after that, she decided that she needs to sing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ every single day since,” Connell said. “And you know what? That’s wonderful.”
Connell will be watching Peter Pan Live with an acute interest from her new home in Nashville. Last year, Connell starred in Starkey Productions’ winning live staging of Peter Pan at the PACE Center in Parker.
Connell, pictured at right (photo by Rachel D. Graham), had her own issues with The Sound of Music telecast – including the casting and production values. She appreciated NBC’s need to cast a celebrity in the lead role of Maria, but she also thought the network should have respected the need for the star to have had some training in musical theatre.
But she is grateful that NBC’s commitment to bring live musical theatre to the masses remains unwavering. And from what she has heard about Peter Pan Live, she said, “I am actually hopeful.” More than that, “I am actually excited to see it, which is something I could not have said before The Sound of Music.”
Connell is excited by the breadth and balance of the Peter Pan Live ensemble, which includes movie stars such as Christopher Walken as Hook and Minnie Driver as Adult Wendy, alongside beloved Broadway stars Kelli O’Hara as Mrs. Darling and Christian Borle as Mr. Smee.
She’s less excited, frankly, to see Allison Williams, best known for HBO’s Girls and daughter of NBC News anchor Brian Williams, in the role of Peter.
“I personally chose to go the super-boy route when I played the role because, after all, Peter is a boy,” Connell said. “And from what I have seen, it seems like Allison is going the super-feminine route. And I just personally disagree with that choice.”
But she understands the potential good that Peter Pan Live could mean for boosting the visibility and standing of live theatre in the pop-culture pantheon.
“I mean, let’s face it – this is still not ‘live theatre,’ “ Connell said. But I do think it is wonderful that NBC is getting theatre back on live network television.”
TV has a long history of telecasting live theatre. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was written for television in 1957, and only became a live-theatre staple afterward. A new touring production of that show, in fact, visits the Buell Theatre from Feb. 3-15. A remake starring Brandy aired on ABC in 1997.
Cinderella, like Peter Pan, has been made more contemporary to fit modern-day sensibilities, which Connell thinks will be crucial for the musical to be warmly received on Thursday, especially among younger viewers. The original, after all, is now 60 years old.
New songs have been added to the network’s live staging, Amanda Green, the daughter of Adolph Green, one of the musical’s original lyricists, was brought in to write new lyrics for songs such as The Elegant Captain Hook and Ugg-a-Wugg.
In a further attempt to update the musical while keeping its original integrity intact, Entertainment Weekly has reported, producers have adapted songs from other musicals by Adolph Green, Betty Comden and Jule Styne to add to the new live special.
“I am really looking forward to that,” Connell said. “I’m really thinking of what we will be seeing on Thursday as almost a revival, in a sense. Something new.”
Peter Pan Live
Thursday, Dec. 4
7 p.m. MST