Last night was the airing of Peter Pan Live!, the second iteration of what NBC is calling a “holiday tradition” of televised live, musical spectacles. The first was last year’s The Sound of Music, which was highly watched but hardly loved, becoming sport for some particularly (and justifiably) cruel Twitter users, and it was clear from the outset that Peter Pan Live! was headed toward the same fate. The early promo photos were embarrassing/terrifying, and Peter Pan herself (Alison Williams) even made a plea to viewers to “not hate-watch.” They didn’t listen, of course. But, unlike The Sound of Music, barely anyone was watching, and all of those who were seemed to be doing it hatefully (#PeterPanLive is still going). And that was a real shame, because Peter Pan Live! wasn’t that bad. And it was probably the gayest thing on national broadcast television since Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, though it looks like it could’ve been broadcast at the same time.
Putting this particular production aside, the story of Peter Pan itself is pretty damn gay. Every aspect of it is obsessed with boyhood. Peter is a boy who will “never grow up,” the Lost Boys are boys who will also never grow up, the natives of Neverland seem to be boys (minus Tiger Lily) who will never grow up, and Captain Hook and his pirates are boys that are upset at having grown up. Their obsession with women aside, the story was and is a celebration of boyhood.
Well, with Peter Pan Live!, any possibility of shucking off the gayness of the source material was thrown, like fairy dust, right out the window. And it’s not just because Broadway is a very gay place.
This particular production came off as weird, druggy celebration of gayness, if gayness were stuck in the ’90s, when everybody’s mom thought being gay meant wrist-flicking like Jack from Will & Grace. The sets were filled with technicolor, phallic trees. There were fairies. The Lost Boys all bathed in a single bathtub. The pirates lived with and obeyed Hook as if in some kind of San Francisco alpha/sub/dog pack relationship.
There was Christopher Walken’s Captain Hook, who, with his sculpted eyebrows and heavy makeup, looks more like he’s in drag than even Williams. Then there was his cadre of pirates, buff dudes in pink and purple and polka dots and lots and lots of leather. They tap danced together. There was also Christian Borle’s arms. It was like a fantastical boys’ club taken to its furthest, S&M extremes, only with the masochism being that none of the boys in the club can talk about what it is they’re actually doing.
And the Neverland natives? They were clad in loincloths and slathered in mud-like body paint, and are introduced to us in some kind of fight-dance sequence that may as well have been a mating ritual. They were hiding just behind the Lost Boys, propped on their backs, legs spread wide. And the Lost Boys themselves were wearing tattered schoolboy uniforms that look to have been ripped from some kind of “Barely Legal” gay porn. It doesn’t help that these were muscular adult men who are supposed to be children stuck in adolescence.
The thing is, it was all done completely unintentionally, with no irony and no ill intentions. Did any of the folks involved in the production of Peter Pan Live! think that they were producing anything that was gay, or at least gayer than any sort of theater production (which is inevitably produced, at least in part, by gay men) inherently is? Probably not. The technicolor sets, the writhing purple, humanoid crocodile, the so tight, homoerotic costumes, the drag makeup — it was probably all done with no thought as to how hetero/homosexual the things appeared to be. But, that’s what happened: NBC produced a version of Peter Pan in which Neverland is the fairytale place where all grandparents dread that their gay grandsons hope to live. It is NBC’s own Castro.