Television

Say:‘I don’t believe in Newley and Bricusse.’ Maybe they’ll fall down dead

MARTIN KNELMAN December 13 1976
Television

Say:‘I don’t believe in Newley and Bricusse.’ Maybe they’ll fall down dead

MARTIN KNELMAN December 13 1976

Say:‘I don’t believe in Newley and Bricusse.’ Maybe they’ll fall down dead

Television

Every year as Christmas approaches the television networks drop down our collective chimneys an assortment of gaily wrapped bundles. As usual we’ll have our annual visit from Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Charlie Brown and Ebenezer Scrooge. We’ll have holiday extravaganzas featuring Bing Crosby, George Burns and the music of Richard Rodgers. Without doubt, however, the most widely awaited show of the holiday season is NBC’S lavish remake of Peter Pan, with Mia Farrow as the orphaned hero who will not grow up. Mary Martin was appearing in a moderately successful Broadway musical version of James Barrie’s 1904 play in 1955 when NBC decided to do it on television, live. Like The Wizard Of Oz, the show was one of those rare cases of a children’s treat that captivated adult audiences as well.

It was so popular that the show was repeated live in 1956, and then there was a taped version in 1960 which was shown four times, most recently in 1973. Despite that legendary success, Mary Martin has evidently flapped her wings and flown off to Never-Neverland!for the last time. With the arrival of the new version on December 12, the old Peter Pan has been permanently retired. Even if all the viewers who believe in Mary Martin close their eyes and clap their hands, it won’t bring her out of the vaults at NBC. “The original was excellent for its period,” says William Storke, NBC’S director of special projects, “but we felt it could stand freshening.”

Technically the standards of TV production have changed over the past 16 years in such matters as sets, editing and camera equipment. Once the decision had been made to do it over, NBC and Lew Grade of Britain’s ITC (which co-produced the new

show in England) decided to throw out the old material and commission a completely new score by Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse—and that’s where they made their big mistake.

Mia Farrow, who has to sing much of it, has always had an elfish, androgynous charm, and her waifish quality makes her peculiarly suited to play a motherless boy. She hasn’t been required to sing before but she bravely declined to have herself discreetly dubbed by Marni Nixon, who specializes in anonymous warbling for movie stars who can’t sing. Farrow proves to have a thin but pleasant voice that seems like a perfect extension of her screen personality. The problem is not her singing but what she has been given to sing—precious kitsch duds such as You Can Fly, Fm Better With You and Growing Up. Farrow doesn’t come on like a strong personality, but she must have a hidden survivor quality. Her appeal wasn’t canceled by the disaster all around her in The Great Gatsby, and it shines through here in spite of songs that would kill the spark in hardier troupers.

As Captain Hook, the role originally taken by Cyril Ritchard, Danny Kaye gets by with his accustomed panache, though his big show-stopper, The Rotters’ Hall Of Fame, is more or less a straight steal from a famous number that Ray Walston did in Damn Yankees. Danny Kaye isn’t capable of being truly monstrous; his specialty is a light-footedness and light-headedness that invite the audience to take delight in his foolishness. The villainy of this Captain Hook won’t scare even very young children; it’s as cheerfully harmless as the brightly colored papier-maché crocodile, colloquially known here as “the crock.”

This new Peter Pan has so much going

for it—talented performers, classy production values and English nuances as authentic as the silken tones of offscreen narrator Sir John Gielgud—that it’s a puzzle why the producers saddled it with Bricusse and Newley, those deadly masters of Muzak banality. Did they seriously expect the show to take off with songs by the men who between them have inflicted on mankind the scores of The Roar Of The Greasepaint, Stop The World (I Want to Get Off),Goodbye Mr. Chips and Scrooge? It could have been predicted that Barrie’s whimsical conceits would bring out the worst in Bricusse and Newley, and the numbing witless numbers keep coming. With such a score as this one the comic monster of the deep isn’t the only crock in this Peter Pan.

MARTIN KNELMAN