'Peter Pan Live!' team previews the production's new songs
In addition to classics like “I Won’t Grow Up” and “I’m Flying,” NBC’s upcoming live production of Peter Pan will feature some songs unfamiliar even to those who wore out their VHS copies of the Mary Martin movie.
Peter Pan Live! enlisted Amanda Green—the daughter of one of Peter Pan‘s original lyricists, Adolph Green, and a Broadway veteran in her own right—to help expand the show with new lyrics for pre-existing melodies. “It fleshed out the show. It deepened the characters, it kind of drove plot more—which good songs do in musicals. Amanda was just wonderful in capturing the spirit of her father and [Green’s partner] Betty Comden,” executive producer Neil Meron told EW.
Change has long been part of Pan‘s production history, Meron explained. The elder Green, Comden, and composer Jule Styne added songs, including “Never Never Land,” to Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh’s score during the show’s road to Broadway back in 1954. To keep the show’s “integrity” intact for the new production, Meron and the Pan team dove into the Styne, Comden, and Green songbook to find songs they could adapt.
The new songs include “Vengeance,” an entrance song for Captain Hook adapted from “Ambition” from the musical Do Re Mi; “Only Pretend,” a song for Wendy about her feelings for Pan adapted from “I Know About Love,” also from Do Re Mi; and “A Wonderful World Without Peter,” a duel song between Hook and Peter adapted from “Something’s Always Happening On The River” from Say Darling. There is also a reprise of “Only Pretend,” sung by Mrs. Darling, and “When I Went Home,” a song for Peter by Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh that appeared in the 1954 out-of-town try-out. (It was cut before Peter Pan ever got to Broadway.)
“When [“Home”] was sung originally in the show, according to history books, there was a very, very quiet, subdued reaction to it, because it was kind of melancholy,” Meron explained. “We felt that would work for our production, because we wanted to go into our characters a little bit more. We wanted to show a little bit of what went on inside of Peter. We restored the song, and it’s gorgeous.” (One song that doesn’t make the final cut of the NBC production: “Oh My Mysterious Lady,” written for Mary Martin’s soprano, Meron said.)
Meron described the process of finding songs to transform into Pan numbers as an “excavation mission” for him, musical director David Chase, and Amanda Green. “We were looking for that type of melody that we loved, that we thought would fit into the fabric of Peter Pan, which led us to shows like Say Darling and Do Re Mi,” Meron said. “They were perfect, perfect shows in which to take those melodies and have Amanda do her magic. We batted around a lot of songs over the course of several weeks, and Amanda would be tireless in terms of crafting lyrics, being a team player, and really understanding the character—because it’s so much a part of her history too.”
Green told EW she heard her father singing “Captain Hook” “a hundred times,” calling Hook’s songs “part of the fabric of my life.” But the performer tackling Hook this time around also influenced her. After hearing Christopher Walken at a table read, “we thought it would be fun to write a song that highlighted his particular gifts,” Green said. “We all wanted to give him funny and eccentric words and ideas.”
And Walken isn’t the only talent having an impact on this production of Pan. The reprise of “Only Pretend” will highlight Broadway star Kelli O’Hara, who plays Mrs. Darling. “Truth of the matter is, [we] have one of the greatest talents in musical theater working today,” Meron said. “We’d be fools not to take advantage of her great talent. We don’t like to think of ourselves as fools. There are a couple of musical surprises from Kelli, bits and pieces throughout the show.”
The new songs will coexist alongside old favorites—though one that has been deemed offensive in recent years has been updated. “Ugg-a-Wugg,” a number for Peter Pan and Tiger Lily, featured lines like “the brave noble red skin” and a chorus of made-up, “Native American”-sounding phrases like “gugg-a-bluck.” The song is now now called “True Blood Brothers,” a lyric in the original version.
“Amanda has consulted with our Native American consultant [Jerod Tate], just in terms of replacing ‘Ugg-a-Wugg’ with something more traditionally Native American—which has been approved by them and the rights holders. Now and forever, this will hopefully be the version [in the show],” Meron said. Green said the process involved “stripping it down and taking out things that were silly in the day it was written and offensive today.” The new version of the song has Native American phrases, while “nonsense syllables” have been replaced with nursery rhymes.
All of the new songs could have a life beyond NBC’s production, according to Meron. “We hope that our version is really successful. If people want to adopt our changes, then it’s just going to be a lot of flattery for the people that created this new version,” Meron said. “We enhanced something that was already great and made it even more musically richer.”
Green’s just glad to carry on her family legacy. “I’d like to think my dad would feel like, ‘if I couldn’t be here to do it myself, I’m glad she did it,'” she said. “There’s nothing he enjoyed more than writing. I think he would be happy with it, barring the fact that he couldn’t do it himself.”
Peter Pan Live!