All the ‘Peter Pan’ adaptations in Broadway theatre
As the slapstick comedy adaptation Peter Pan Goes Wrong lands on Broadway in spring 2023, learn about all the shows that have taken audiences to Neverland.
You gotta crow about it. J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, a tale of a boy who wouldn’t grow up, first flew onto the stage 119 years ago. He has delighted audiences – and inspired writers — ever since. Case in point: Peter Pan Goes Wrong, a comedy about a theatre troupe’s turbulent efforts to stage Peter Pan, opens on Broadway in March, 10 years after first making London audiences laugh.
What makes Peter Pan such rich, timeless material? On the one hand, young audiences enjoy seeing the age- and gravity-defying rascal’s adventures in Neverland alongside the Darling children, lost boys, villainous pirates, and fairies. Adults do, too, and they appreciate the conflict of wanting to remain a child forever but knowing they must grow up.
Each adaptation finds something new to explore in the source material, whether hewing close to Barrie's story or departing widely. Read on to learn more about shows in the Peter Pan-theon.
1904: Peter Pan in London
Barrie’s play premiered in December 1904 at Duke of York’s Theatre in London with Nina Boucicault in the title role – and in a harness, a must for flying sequences. But why cast a 37-year-old actress as a boy? Regulations regarding child actors at the time. It has since become tradition for a female actress to play Peter Pan on stage.
Gerald du Maurier doubled up as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook in the show produced by Charles Frohman. The play’s hit run inspired Barrie to write the 1911 novel adaptation called Peter and Wendy.
1905: Peter Pan on Broadway
Frohman brought the play to New York, where it debuted on Broadway at the Empire Theatre. Maude Adams played Peter, a role she never outgrew. She reprised the part in 1912 and 1915 runs. The role of Peter Pan later became a Broadway showcase for Marilyn Miller in 1924 and Eva Le Gallienne in 1928.
1950: The first Peter Pan Broadway musical
This obscure adaptation boasts music and lyrics by Leonard Bernstein, the renowned composer of West Side Story and On the Town. The show virtually vanished after its initial run starring Jean Arthur as Peter Pan and horror icon Boris Karloff as Captain Hook. However, to celebrate Bernstein's would-be 100th birthday in 2018, Bard College mounted a contemporary take on the show.
“Who Am I?,” sung by Wendy Darling, reminds us that kids ask big questions: “What am I? Was it all planned in advance, or was I just born by chance?”
1954: The best-known Peter Pan musical
Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard hooked themselves Tony Awards as Peter Pan and Captain Hook in this iconic Broadway musical directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins.
NBC telecasts with the same stars in 1955, 1956, and 1960 made Peter Pan a household name – and put the hummable songs “I Gotta Crow,” “I’m Flying,” and “I Won’t Grow Up” by composer Moose Charlap and lyricist Carolyn Leigh on everyone’s lips. Showtune earworms “Wendy” and “Neverland” are the work of Betty Comden, Adolf Green, and Funny Girl composer Jule Styne.
Broadway revivals of the show starred Sandy Duncan in 1979 and ex-gymnast Cathy Rigby throughout the 1990s. In 2014, a live telecast of the stage show, starring Allison Williams as Peter and Christopher Walken as Hook, aired on NBC.
1982 and 2016: Nontraditional Peter Pan productions in London
Though it's tradition, there’s no rule that a woman must play Peter Pan – or that a man must play Captain Hook. The December 1982 adaptation of the play, directed by John Caird and Trevor Nunn and presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Barbican Theatre in London, starred Miles Anderson, whose IMDb page notes that “he has the distinction of being the first adult male to play Peter Pan.”
And in 2016, a production with London's National Theatre had Anna Francolini playing Mrs. Darling and the hateful Hook. According to director Sally Cookson, this casting matched Barrie's original intent, as the ever-childlike Peter Pan's real enemy was the "mother figure."
2011: Peter and the Starcatcher
Based on the novel Peter and the Starcatchers, Rick Elice's play is a Peter Pan precursor. How did Peter Pan get his name and legendary status? And Captain Hook? Answers emerge in the Victorian-era tale filled with orphans, pirates, and magical stuff from fallen stars.
Peter and the Starcatcher premiered off Broadway in 2011 and a year later on Broadway. The show won five Tonys, including Best Featured Actor for Christian Borle, now starring in Some Like It Hot, and costumes by Paloma Young, whose work is now on display in & Juliet.
2013: Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Second star to the right, and straight on till Murphy’s Law kicks in. So it goes in this Mischief Theatre play-within-a-play about a hapless troupe of actors stumbling and bumbling their way through a production of Peter Pan. Ten years after its premiere, the show flies onto Broadway in spring 2023.
The broad comedy follows a template established in Mischief’s The Play That Goes Wrong, which debuted in London in 2012. That show opened on Broadway in 2017, ran there for nearly two years, and is currently off Broadway.
2015: Finding Neverland
There’s always a dusting of truth in make-believe. Peter Pan grew out of stories and fantastical games Barrie played with the sons of Sylvia Llewellyn Davies. Writer Allan Knee turned that bit of history into his 1998 play The Man Who Was Peter Pan, which became the 2004 Johnny Depp movie Finding Neverland.
After a long development period, the musical adaptation premiered at American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 2014. Finding Neverland features a book by James Graham and songs by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy.
The 2015 Broadway production starred Matthew Morrison as J. M. Barrie, Kelsey Grammer as Charles Frohman and Capt. Hook, Laura Michele Kelly as Sylvia, and current Bad Cinderella stepmom Carolee Carmello as Sylvia’s mother.
Additional Peter Pan adaptations
The above are major Peter Pan adaptations, but many other shows have looked to Barrie’s ageless wonder as a jumping-off point. Two recent plays are Sarah Ruhl’s For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday, which ran off Broadway in 2017, and Lauren Gunderson’s girl-powered Peter Pan and Wendy, which ran in Washington, D.C. in 2019. There’s always something new to discover and enjoy about Barrie’s boy wonder.
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