Holy cow, did I love Peter Pan.
I was 12 years old in 1981 and worked at the concessions at the Metropolitan Center. My uncle ran the concession stands and my mother, sister, various uncles and cousins and once in a while my father worked for him as well. But when Peter Pan was in town I flat-out refused to work. I didn’t work one show because I watched every single performance. (Except for the matinees during the week. Stupid junior high.)
I went backstage. I stayed in the empty theater and listened to sound checks. I watched them practice with the wires to make sure Sandy Duncan didn’t land on her face mid-song. I was thoroughly obsessed.
For the longest time I refused to get the cassette tape of the show because it was Mary Martin and not Sandy Duncan. (There is a generation of people whose Peter Pan is Mary Martin and another generation whose Peter Pan is Cathy Rigby and all I can say to that is SANDY DUNCAN.) I finally got it as a token of peace between me and my uncle for reasons I can’t remember now. (I DO remember that my uncle said I could have anything I wanted and he tried to talk me out of only choosing the cassette.) I gave in because I loved the music and knew the show was leaving and that I wouldn’t be able to listen to it live for much longer.
Captain Hook was played by Christopher Hewett, who had an amazing turn as Roger Debris in the original version of The Producers in 1968 and who a few years after Peter Pan would go on to true fame as Mr. Belvedere. He was dashing and campy and resourceful. (During one show Captain Hook’s gun seemed to jam because the shooting sound effect never came. Hewett yelled “BANG!” and the actor he was supposed to be shooting fell to the ground. Hewett then turned to the audience and deadpanned, “It’s the only way.” I remember this vividly but I can barely remember my cell phone number most days.)
There was an actor named Al De Cristo who played Cecco (one of the pirates). He was the first actor who made me look away from the main characters and pay attention to what was going on elsewhere on stage. I was fascinated by him any time he was on stage and missed a lot of the primary action for my watching whatever he did. I never got to meet Sandy Duncan or Christopher Hewett but I got to meet Al De Cristo once (and I was probably more excited about it than I would have been had I met the other two). A quick Google search reveals two brief stints on Broadway for Mr. De Cristo. Oh well…he left quite the impression on me.
To this day, seeing Peter flying across the stage thrills me. I wish I could see Sandy Duncan’s Peter Pan one more time. There are some clips on YouTube but not as much as I’d like. Still, they’re enough to please me for a moment or two.
There’s nothing deep or dark or even particularly thrilling about Peter Pan. But I defy you to watch the show live and not clap like an idiot when Tinker Bell drinks the poison and is about to die (okay, maybe it’s a LITTLE dark). What I remember most about it is how very happy it made me for those couple of hours in the dark of the theater. How very, very happy it did make me.