Tonight, Allison Williams will finally take flight in NBC’s Peter Pan Live! For NBC, this is a chance to follow up on the success of last year’s The Sound of Music Live! For Williams, it’s the chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of being Peter. For Christopher Walken (Captain Hook), it’s a chance to show off his dancing skills. For the audience? It’s a chance to write some funny tweets—and maybe, just maybe, be swept away by the wonder of it all.
So, what do you need to know before settling down to watch tonight? EW has you covered.
First of all: You are not watching Disney’s Peter Pan
If you were looking forward to hearing “You Can Fly!” or “Never Smile at a Crocodile,” temper your expectations. Disney’s Pan came out in 1953; a year later, the first version of the musical Pan we’ll see tonight—starring Mary Martin—premiered on Broadway. It features songs from the teams of Carolyn Leigh and Moose Charlap and Betty Comden, Adolph Green and Jule Styne. Some of the classics you’ll hear? “I’ve Got to Crow” and “I’m Flying.” The show was revived in the late ’70s, featuring Sandy Duncan in the title role. Throughout the ’90s, Cathy Rigby played the role various times on Broadway—and kept playing Peter through 2013. Honestly, Rigby might still be playing Peter. Who knows?
This Pan also has had a history of live broadcasts. NBC broadcast the Mary Martin version live in 1955 to wild success, then again a year later. She starred in a taped version in 1960. (You can find a good overview of Martin’s run as Peter at Longreads.)
There will be changes, though…
Peter Pan Live! features new songs with lyrics by Green’s daughter, Amanda, with music taken from Styne compositions. Also, the out-of-date, offensive song “Ugg-a-Wugg,” a number with Peter Pan and Tiger Lily, has been amended with the help of a Native American consultant. Read all about the new songs here. Meron also told EW that Irene Mecchi, who has worked on Brave and The Lion King, worked on the musical’s book. “We had her re-examine the book and really make their Captain Hook more of a villain and make some of the scenes a little bit more emotional,” Meron said. “And have the characters connect on deeper, more emotional levels while retaining the humor.”
Meanwhile, Tinkerbell has become computer generated, and Peter’s shadow, the New York Times reported, is a “computerized projection.” While those elements of the production are getting high tech, others are getting more, well, realistic: Nana, usually played by a human in a dog suit, will be a real dog.
Christopher Walken is a legendary dancer
One of the highlights of the night inevitably will be Walken’s dancing. As Clark Collis wrote in EW, Walken “is not an actor who dabbles in dance, but rather a dancer who fell into acting.” In The Making of Peter Pan Live! special, executive producer Neil Meron teased that the Oscar winner will be the “most dancing-est Captain Hook there’s ever been.” If you’re looking for random trivia: Walken noted at a press event that EW attended in October that he was born on the night Oklahoma! opened on Broadway.
As for Walken’s swordfighting skills? He told press that those weren’t as impressive. “I’m not a great swordfighter,” he said. “I have to be very careful.” He added: “I’ve had to do it in Shakespeare plays and so on, and I always look like a coward.” Williams, however, contradicted that: “He a liar. Scratch everything he just said. He’s an excellent swordfighter. Very natural. It took me a week to learn what took him two minutes because of his dance background.”
Christian Borle has been on the other side of pirate abuse
Borle, who plays the subservient Smee in Pan Live!, hasn’t always been an evil pirate’s lapdog. In fact, Borle won a Tony for playing the villainous—and ultimately handless—Black Stache in the Peter Pan prequel Peter and the Starcatcher (a.k.a. the Captain Hook character).
“Being on the other side of that dynamic of that famous comedy duo, I learned so much from my friend Kevin Del Aguila, who played Smee to my Black Stache,” Borle said during the event. “I was always in awe of his patience with me as I went off and did all these ridiculous things. He was always so loving and so right there. So what I’m just trying to do is to do what he did for me, which is just to be present and loving and supportive and wait for the crumbs.” Borle also takes on the role of the Darling patriarch tonight. (Typically, Mr. Darling and Hook are played by the same actor, rather than Darling and Smee.)
Kelli O’Hara is keeping it all in the family
O’Hara revealed that Jake Lucas, who is playing John Darling to her Mrs. Darling, played her son in the musical adaptation of Far From Heaven in 2013. He’ll be playing her son yet again in the upcoming revival of The King and I.
Allison Williams wants you to have an Anton Ego moment
Williams is well aware that people will go into the show planning to hate-watch it—but she’s hoping that they have a revelation. “People will have all their reactions to it, obviously. But my goal is for them to start by being like, ‘oh this is terrible, I hate innocence’—or whatever they’re going to say—and then they’ll just go silent for a second. And we’ll know that they have been sucked in,” she said at the event. “I want it to be that moment in Ratatouille where the food critic zooms back into his childhood.”
Plus, she’s mostly worried about the reactions from a different audience subset. “Most of my concerns are about how little kids will feel about this. I want all of you to enjoy it, but little kids—I care way more about their enjoyment of it,” she said.