Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I wouldn't rant if I didn't care

I'm sure it's unfair of me to judge Fly, the new Peter Pan musical at Dallas Theater Center, without seeing it, but I'm going to do so anyway. From what I'm reading, I'll have to remain unfair because I don't think I can stomach seeing it.

"Forget the ground, forget the sky, 'cause the more you forget the higher you will FLY! FLY, a new musical where Peter Pan flies Wendy and John on an action-packed journey to Neverland that is both fun and scary, exciting and sad. With a new sound and score by Bill Sherman, Rajiv Joseph and Kirsten Childs, FLY shines a whole new light on J.M. Barrie's classic's not just for kids anymore. For adults and kids. Recommended for age 8 years and above. Not appropriate for children under 5 years old."


I'm sorry, wasn't the original exciting and sad, and not just for kids? Here's how we reference the original source material while at the same time disregarding it.

From the bits I'm gleaning--this is from the producer of "Rent" and "Avenue Q," Wendy is grounded for one too many "inappropriate adventures," there are "adult women in tree costumes," pirates who resemble street people (because that's not offensive), lost boys who look like refugees from a gang way (because that's not offensive either), "short, perky tunes"by Sesame Street's music director, and a Tinker Bell with a fixation on young boys--this sounds to me like a Peter Pan nightmare. Adding hip hop isn't going to help. Most updates of the story ring false to me (as in the movie "Hook") and I don't see this being any better. It seems like something that should be doable, but I have yet to see it pulled off well.

Additionally, Lawson Taitte's review says Peter himself gets lost in the musical's psychology, and my beloved Hook seems to be no more than a personification of age hostile to youth. Ironic, since this production isn't recommended for children under eight.

I am admittedly a purist to a fault about many things, and I realize I have a tendency to take other people's Peter Pan interpretations a little too personally at this point*. But I feel better realizing I'm not not this way about all experimental productions. Houston Ballet just staged a dance version I'd have given a lot to to see.

Here's one directed by New York's Robert Wilson which recently premiered in Berlin, with music by CocoRosie, that I would see in a heartbeat and expect to love. Of course, if I were to learn that CocoRosie are originally from Neverland, I'd believe it, so that doesn't hurt.

I simply feel there's only so much surgery one can do on a thing before the heart falls out, and FLY seems to be lacking that organ now altogether.

*For what it's worth, a comment on Project Runway made me think of a Peter Pan Burning Man camp, and I think that would be awesome. Someone do that, please.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mysteries solving themselves

Back in March, I found these at a local Value Village. $1.99 each. I tried without success to find out who the artist was, and friends who searched on my behalf came up with nothing either. (The limitations of internet search have become frustratingly apparent to me as I've progressed on my project.)

But last week, I acquired a book (Peter Pan on Stage and Screen, 1904-2010, by Bruce K. Hanson) in hopes of determining which songs entered the stage production when, for possible reference in chapter titles, and inadvertently got the answer to my mystery as well.

The book is filled with illustrations,  many of them in color. Including this one:

These are undoubtedly, to my mind, from the same family. Both this poster, from the book, and mine are for Charles Frohman productions, and as far as I can tell, they're by the same artist, Charles Buchel, for Strobridge Litho Co.I'm guessing these were all from the same 1906-07 production. I call success! This is why I am continually searching for pieces to fit together, because they don't always come from expected places.

The chances of my stumbling across those posters in a Value Village? I can't say. They're in far too good condition to be anything other than reproductions, but they certainly aren't any of the more commonly seen artistic promotions of the play. I'm quite pleased with my find, especially now that I have this new information.

Charles Frohman himself is an interesting footnote. A renowned Broadway producer, he discovered a number of American theater stars and had one of his greatest successes with his 1905 Peter Pan. One of the friends I mentioned earlier pointed me towards the story of Frohman's death: He was aboard the RMS Lusitania in 1915, within sight of the coast of Ireland, when the ship was hit by a German torpedo. With an injured leg, he couldn't manage the jump into a lifeboat, so instead he stood on deck talking to friends and smoking a cigar. Reportedly he paraphrased a line from Peter Pan as they waited for the ship to go down: "Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure that life gives us."

Friday, July 12, 2013

Art spotting

I have found an artist who drew Captain Hook in a red coat pre-Disney.

American illustrator Roy Best was contracted by Whitman Publishing Company in 1931 to illustrate The Peter Pan Picture Book, based on the play. This is the first portrayal of Hook in red that I have found, and I suspect it was the original inspiration for Disney's art design. Although the animated film was not released until 1953, Walt Disney began work on it in 1935, only to have production derailed by World War II.

Note also Peter in green tunic and tights, with feathered cap. Hmm.

Roy Best also illustrated "Saturday Evening Post" covers. And painted pin-up girls. Well, I have long maintained that Peter Pan is not exclusively a children's book.

Monday, July 8, 2013

A digression to Seattle

For the Wooden Boat Festival; this is not ridiculously off topic. Image-heavy, though--well, yes.

The approach.

Lotus, a 1909 houseboat (see? not off topic) and a few colorful kayaks.

The deck of the Lotus.

Lanterns for Vivian Drew. I probably shouldn't tease my characters, but she's the one who persists in mistaking them for weaponry.

View from 133-foot gaff-rigged schooner Adventuress, first launched in 1913. One year after the publication of "Peter Pan" as a book.

The point at which my composition skills returned and I knew I was getting used to the new camera.

Tugboat Arthur Foss.

Not as graceful as a tall ship, but darned useful.

Working boats can be pretty too.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Keeping faith

Retellings are part of the tradition of fairy tales and one of my favorite literary forms. Most of these, of course, are tales that originated so long ago we have no idea of their beginnings, although we may know their more familiar interpreters, and that provides a certain amount of latitude when deciding how to represent the story.

"Peter Pan"is a challenge for me in this regard, as we do have the original text of the original story in both J.M. Barrie's 1904 play, and in his 1911 book, but there are ways in which they disagree. The play itself went through numerous revisions during its first years. And then there are the multitudinous interpretations of both, some of which are better known than the originals, including the inescapable (trust me on this) Disney film which has become an overlay over nearly every Peter Pan retelling since its release in 1953. So many iconic representations that don't agree with the original, and here am I, trying to be true to the original without disregarding other interpretations or inadvertently stealing from them.

Our boys as most of the world now pictures them, courtesy of Disney Studios. (|Yes, that is commentary as well as an accurate credit.)

But it was not always thus. Behold, Peter Pan in red. And Captain Hook in blue. This is by Alice Woodward, from a 1907 novelization of the play by Daniel O'Connell. (And off to ABE Books your blogger went, having just discovered today that this book exists. Yes, there are affordable copies, and I can't wait to get that full set of pictures.)

Here we have an illustration by Flora White  from 1914, after the initial publication of "Peter and Wendy" in 1911. Possibly the skeleton leaves that Barrie describes Peter as wearing, but again he's in red.

Barrie himself chose Mabel Lucie Attwell to illustrate the gift book version of "Peter Pan" in 1921. Still not the green tunic and tights most people picture Peter wearing**. I'm also struck by how young he looks, unlike most versions since.

The first version I can find of Captain Hook in red is 1931, Gwynedd Hudson's illustrations.

 Although I wonder if this was colored in after 1953, because I have two books with versions of his art (hush), and in one, all the pictures are brown on white, and in the other, the colored plates appear as so:

Disney made the red coat iconic, and it's not until the 2000s that I find any new art with Hook wearing any color besides red. Without the red coat, the central metaphor falls right out of Peter Pan in Scarlet*. I want to think this is enough reason to keep the red coat. But mostly, I like James in red, even if Disney has earned  enough of my ire for distorting the original story that I try to avoid reference to that version altogether (not just for copyright reasons, although they would be enough). I make a nod to the original portrayals of Hook's garment toward the end of "The Stowaway," but James will wear his red coats (yes, they are plural) throughout the story.

And hence my little ballet of being as faithful as I can to the original, plus respecting what's come to be tradition, while trying to keep track of dozens of interpretations over the last 102 years.

*The only authorized sequel to the original, by Geraldine McCaughrean, winner of a 2004 contest sponsored by Great Ormond Street Hospital, to which Barrie willed all proceeds from his book.

**Where would Peter get green tights, anyway? The question answered itself as soon as I'd thought of it--he'd steal them from nurseries, of course.