Niagara Gazette

Community News Network

January 24, 2014

Why is Peter Pan usually played by a woman?

Earlier this week, NBC announced plans to follow their hugely successful live version of "The Sound of Music" with a live adaptation of the musical version of "Peter Pan." The choice seems like a no-brainer: Back in 1955, the network aired a live broadcast of the Broadway production starring Mary Martin to 65 million viewers, and that version has since become a beloved cultural institution through subsequent airings and home video.

What is surprising is the suggested cast. NBC Entertainment's chairman initially joked that he wants Miley Cyrus for the title role, then "hinted" that Peter Pan may be played by a male actor instead. This is a big deal to fans, since the character is nearly always played by a woman. Why have so few men stepped into the role of the eternally young boy?

Initially, the interests of a producer, the logistics of casting, and even English law may have played a part. After that, it became tradition. In his 1979 book, "J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys: The Real Story Behind Peter Pan," English writer and director Andrew Birkin recounts the backstory for the first stage productions. Broadway producer Charles Frohman enthusiastically agreed to produce the play, and he made a couple of suggestions to the author. First, that it be titled, simply, "Peter Pan"; Barrie's working title was "The Great White Father," which is what Barrie has the Indians call Peter. (That phrase has uncertain origins but was - and is - used by some Native Americans to refer to white leaders.) Second, Frohman asked that, in America, the starring role of Peter be played by his protégé, Maude Adams. Frohman reasoned that a man would be wrong for the part, and if they cast a boy, the other children "would have to be scaled down in proportion." English law prohibited the use of minors under 14 on stage after 9 p.m. So a woman it was.

Nina Boucicault, the sister of the show's director Dion Boucicault, was tapped for the lead in England, and she originated the role in December of 1904. (Adams wasn't available to work until the following summer, and so Frohman, "impatient to see the play produced," set up the West End production with Boucicault first, in time for Christmas.)

As Birkin explained to me via email, actresses Cecilia Loftus and Pauline Chase were cast in the seasons following the initial London production, and "even the 1924 silent movie had a girl - Betty Bronson - playing Peter." From there, casting a woman for stage adaptations became the norm, and the majority of prominent productions have seen a female in the title role.

Jerome Robbins' musical version, a vehicle for Mary Martin, extended this tradition. Only one man, Jack Noseworthy, has played this version of Peter on Broadway, and he was an understudy in Jerome Robbins' "Broadway," an anthology of musical numbers from various shows (Charlotte d'Amboise was the principal Peter Pan). Only one song featured the impish boy character.

There have been a few recent exceptions. Since the 1980s, the Royal Shakespeare Company has frequently employed adult male actors in its production of the play, and is currently doing so with actor Sam Swann. The Broadway and off-Broadway productions of the "prequel" to Barrie's story, "Peter and the Starcatcher," featured male actors. And in nearly every film adaptation, Peter has been played (or voiced) by a male.

According to Birkin, Barrie always wished to see a boy play Peter on stage, though he never lived to see it occur. (In 1921, he tried to convince Charlie Chaplin to direct and star in a screen version. Chaplin considered it, but the film never came to fruition.) If NBC does wind up casting a male in the part, it will join those other exceptions as a fulfillment of the author's wishes.

What youthful guy - aside from the supposedly retired Justin Bieber - would have the star power to pull in ratings the way Carrie Underwood did for "The Sound of Music"? None come to mind. But Birkin doesn't think age really matters. "It's the spirit that's important rather than the letter," he says. "I always loved Tyrone Guthrie's comment, that any actor playing Peter must be 'as delicate as a moth, as deadly as a bomb.' "



 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
  • How spy agencies keep their 'toys' from law enforcement

    A little over a decade ago, federal prosecutors used keystroke logging software to steal the encryption password of an alleged New Jersey mobster, Nicodemo Scarfo Jr., so they could get evidence from his computer to be used at his trial.

    July 25, 2014

  • Russia's war on McDonald's takes aim at the Filet-o-Fish

    Russia said earlier this week that it had no intention of answering Western sanctions by making it harder for Western companies to conduct business in Russia.
    But all bets are off, apparently, when you threaten the Russian waistline.

    July 25, 2014

  • cleaning supplies Don't judge mothers with messy homes

    I was building shelves in my garage when a neighbor girl, one of my 4-year-old daughter's friends, approached me and said, "I just saw in your house. It's pretty dirty. Norah's mommy needs to clean more."

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Almost half of America's obese youth don't know they're obese

    The good news is that after decades of furious growth, obesity rates finally seem to be leveling off in the U.S.. The bad news is that America's youth still appear to be dangerously unaware of the problem.

    July 23, 2014

  • 072214 Diamond Llama 1.jpg Llama on the loose corralled in Missouri town

    A llama on the lam cruised Main Street Tuesday before it mistook a resident’s fenced backyard for a place to grab a meal and freshen up.

    July 22, 2014 2 Photos

  • Wal-Mart to cut prices more aggressively in back-to-school push

    Wal-Mart Stores plans to cut prices more aggressively during this year's back-to-school season and will add inventory to its online store as the chain battles retailers for student spending.

    July 21, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • NWS-HB0713-HowardMartin-004.jpg Airman laid to rest back home in Indiana six decades after death

    The mystery of what happened to a military transport plane that disappeared in the fall of 1952 into an Alaskan glacier was solved two years ago when a helicopter crew spotted the wreckage. But it took another two years to retrieve the remains of Airman Howard Miller and 16 other servicemen passengers. Saturday, Miller was laid to rest in his hometown of Elwood, Ind., with full military honors. Hundreds turned out for the funeral and burial services.

    July 13, 2014 2 Photos

  • New York to offer free lunch to all middle-school students

    New York's $75 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that began last week includes the first step toward offering free lunch for all 1.1 million students, expanding a program now reserved only for the city's poorest children.

    July 9, 2014

  • Are America's biggest alcohol brands targeting the country's underage youth?

    Underage drinkers - those between the ages of 18 and 20, most specifically - are more heavily exposed to printed alcohol advertisements than any other age group, according to a new study. And it's America's biggest booze companies that could be to blame.

    July 9, 2014

Featured Ads
House Ads
AP Video
Raw: Massive Dust Storm Covers Phoenix 12-hour Cease-fire in Gaza Fighting Begins Raw: Bolivian Dancers Attempt to Break Record Raw: Israel, Palestine Supporters Rally in US Raw: Palestinians and Israeli Soldiers Clash Raw: Air Algerie Flight 5017 Wreckage Virginia Governor Tours Tornado Aftermath Judge Faces Heat Over Offer to Help Migrant Kids Kerry: No Deal Yet on 7-Day Gaza Truce Kangaroo Goes Missing in Oklahoma More M17 Bodies Return, Sanctions on Russia Grow Gaza Residents Mourn Dead Amid Airstrikes Raw: Deadly Tornado Hits Virginia Campground Ohio State Marching Band Chief Fired After Probe Raw: Big Rig Stuck in Illinois Swamp Cumberbatch Brings 'Penguins' to Comic-Con Raw: Air Algerie Crash Site in Mali Power to Be Restored After Wash. Wildfire Crashed Air Algerie Plane Found in Mali Israel Mulls Ceasefire Amid Gaza Offensive
Opinion
House Ads
Night & Day
Twitter News
Follow us on twitter
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Front page