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Never Never Land

Peter Pan enjoys a rich history in the theatre starting way back in 1904 when Nina Boucicault first took flight in James Barrie's London play. (The character of Peter first appeared in Barrie's 1902 novel titled "The Little White Bird.") 1906 brought Peter to Broadway for the first time starring Maude Adams. (watercolor, left) And while there have been many productions of Peter Pan since, it wasn't until 1954 that the musical evolved.

The play was always a play with music as the star usually sang several popular tunes of the time such as Marilyn Miller's "I Love You, Peter Pan" in 1924. Other famous actresses who have taken us to Never Never Land are Eva Le Gallienne in 1932 and Jean Arthur in 1950. Then, of course, all of our hearts were totally captured by Mary Martin in 1954.

It's interesting that if Jean Arthur were able to sing (and she couldn't) Mary Martin may have never played the role and the full-scale musical, as we know it, would have never been created. In 1950, Leonard Bernstein had been called in to do the score and Jerome Robbins was hired as director but when it was decided that their star was not really a singer, Robbins left and the play with 5 Bernstein songs was produced to critical acclaim. However, it still wasn't a musical.

When Mary Martin was approached to play the role it was her idea to turn the play with music into a full-scale musical production. Bernstein was busy with other projects so none of his material was to be used but Jerome Robbins was brought on board to direct and choreograph. Moose Charlap and Carolyn Leigh were hired for music and lyrics.

When the show was in trouble Jerry Robbins called in lyricists Betty Comden and Adoph Green and Jule Styne to complete the score, however, three very popular songs from Peter Pan belong to Charlap and Leigh. ("I've Gotta Crow," "I'm Flying" and "I Won't Grow Up.") Comden and Green could have cut these songs but they realized they were quite good. Even Jule Styne agreed, "I told Mary that we can't improve on 'I'm Flying.' It's damn good!" Comden, Green and Styne completed the score and it was when they wrote "Never Never Land" that they knew the whole thing had been pulled together.

The musical first played the Curran Theatre in Los Angeles and then opened on Broadway on October 20, 1954 to rave reviews. Meanwhile, across the pond, folks were wondering what the Yanks had done to their beloved play but as it turned out the first act is pretty much exactly as Barrie had written it with the rest of the musical staying true to the original material.

Mary Martin is remembered for this role due to the videotaping for television in the 1950's but another Peter Pan captured our hearts in 1979 as Sandy Duncan flew her way to the balcony rail at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre.

And now, the magic begins again this week as the boy who won't grow up flies once again. This time it's Cathy Rigby who will steal your heart as she takes you on the journey to Never Land in this wonderful musical created all because Jean Arthur couldn't sing!

I sometimes tell the tale of Peter Pan to children. And they always ask me, "Where is Never Land?" And I really don't know what to say. "Would you believe me if I told you? Promise?"

I have a place where dreams are born
And time is never planned

It's not on any chart
You must find it with your heart
Never Never Land

It might be miles beyond the moon
Or right there where you stand

Just keep an open mind
And then suddenly you'll find
Never Never Land

Peter Pan, starring Cathy Rigby, begins this Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 at the Gershwin Theatre. For tickets call TicketMaster (212) 307-4100.

Note: A very special thanks to a Talkin' Broadway reader for the watercolor painting you see at the top of this column. Knowing my love for Peter Pan this painting was given to me as a gift. It was painted by Nan LaLanne on December 4, 1906 and depicts Maude Adams as Peter Pan from the first American production of the play. This very generous person gave this painting to me after reading my own take on the Peter Pan tale, The Return To Neverland. Thank you Bonnie. I'll always treasure it; more than words can ever, ever express.

See you Thursday!

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