People

Peter Pan: still forever young

AP

“Losing your shadow: What is that about?” muses Allison Williams. “As a kid you just accept it. But as an adult, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what it means.”

Williams, at 26 best-known for the HBO series Girls, feels her life since childhood has pointed toward 8 p.m. Thursday, when she (and her shadow) will headline NBC’s Peter Pan Live!

As a toddler, she was already listening to the Broadway recording of Peter Pan, and she viewed the 1960 NBC telecast starring Mary Martin countless times. She even played Peter Pan with her grandparents.

“It was the only way they could get me into the bathtub,” recalls the daughter of NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams. “My grandmother would be Wendy, and she would take a toothpick and dental floss and pretend to sew my shadow on while I was splashing around. My father was Captain Hook. That was our game.”

Soon after last November’s triumphant live telecast of The Sound of Music, NBC declared Peter Pan as this year’s musical.

“From the second they announced it, I was emailing my agents constantly. I was sending them tapes of me singing Never Never Land.”

Then she learned that Christopher Walken had been signed as the villainous pirate Captain Hook.

“I thought, ‘What a cool choice!’ And my desperation level went through the roof. Then finally the call came this summer: ‘Would you like to do Peter Pan?’”

Here was a dream role that called for Williams to sing, dance, fight, master a British accent and, most challenging of all, fly.

“At first, to face a specific direction was hard. To land without looking down was hard. To maintain your body in a position where people don’t see the harness was hard. Then you want to put your own personality into the flying style, to come up with tricks and positions that are original.”

And working all this out, “you can’t be up there too long at a time,” she adds, “or you’ll get sore. But it’s soooo great. It’s wickedly fun!”

It’s as if she were born to be aloft in this role, and clearly she deems it a sacred trust, one about to come true, live, for an audience of millions.

While Peter gets to fly, Captain Hook will have ample chance to demonstrate he’s light on his feet.

Tap dancing in boots? “I asked them to make my clothing as light as possible,” said Walken, “’cause there’s a lot of stuff to wear: a wig and a hat and swords and muskets!”

A show business veteran at 71, Walken isn’t typically thought of as a song-and-dance man, despite his memorable hoofing in Pennies From Heaven. But however much identified with serious drama (his breakout, Oscar-winning role was in the chilling 1978 film The Deer Hunter), he is anything but dismissive of musicals.

“Musicals are my favorite!” Walken declared. “If somebody says, ‘I’m taking you to the theater,’ I say, ‘OK. Just make sure it’s a musical.’ I have deep respect for musicals — and for this one in particular.”

Peter Pan just appeals to something in a kid’s imagination,” added Williams. “A boy flies through your window, and everything’s different forever.

“And if you revisit Peter Pan periodically as you grow up, it means different things every time you see it. The hardest I’ve ever cried in public was when I saw Cathy Rigby in it the summer before my senior year of high school. I had spent so many years wishing I was 16 so I could drive and 18 so I could vote, but now here I was, telling myself, ‘I grew up! I didn’t mean to do that!’”

She laughed at the memory, now able to apply to it the added wisdom of her 26 years.

“If only I could have told myself then, ‘Don’t worry. You’ll play Peter Pan in a few years, and you’ll un-grow-up.’”

FRAZIER MOORE

AP Television Writer

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