Many versions of Peter Pan had been mounted on Broadway going back to 1908. In a nod to the original play, and the “panto” tradition it derives from, the title character of Peter Pan in the musical almost always played by a woman. A “play with music” version of Peter Pan was mounted in 1950, with (gorgeous) music by Leonard Bernstein (Look for the Linda Eder recording on Amazon), and starred Jean Arthur, and Boris Karloff. This production was quite a success, and ran 321 performances between both the St. James, and Imperial Theaters.
Producer Edwin Lester, founder and director of the Los Angeles Civic Light Opera, obtained the American rights to Peter Pan and adapted it as a play with music for Broadway leading lady Mary Martin to play that boy who just won’t grow up.. The show was actually not successful in its pre-Broadway West Coast tour, so director Jerome Robbins hired lyricists Betty Comden/Adolph Green and composer Jule Styne to add more songs, including “Never Never Land,” “Distant Melody” and several other numbers, turning the show into a full-scale musical.The musical, instead of using Barrie’s original ending, in which Peter simply allowed Wendy and the other children to return home, includes an additional scene that Barrie had written later and titled An Afterthought. In this ending, Peter returns after many years to take Wendy back to Never Never Land for spring cleaning. He finds that he has been away so long that Wendy is now an adult, married woman with a daughter. Saddened at first, he is delighted when Wendy’s daughter Jane offers to be his new mother, and instead takes her with him.
The 1954 musical version of Peter Pan opened on October 20, 1954 at the Winter Garden Theater in New York for a planned limited run of 152 performances. The show had been sold to NBC, which ensured that it was a financial success despite the limited run. It played its final performance on February 26, 1955. The revised score and Tony-winning performances by Martin and Ritchard made Peter Pan a huge success, and cast album is still in print today.
The show opened in a busy Broadway season, competing with such notable shows as The Boy Friend, Fanny, Silk Stockings, and Damn Yankees. However, while still in tryouts in L.A., a deal was made for the show to be broadcast on the NBC Producers Anthology Series on March 7, 1955. The show closed so that the special could be broadcast on television, even though the box office continued to be strong throughout the Broadway run. There have since been 5 revivals of Peter Pan on Broadway, the first was with Sandy Duncan, and the last four (90′, 91′, 98′, 99′) have been with Cathy Rigby (who now owns the rights).
Click below to watch the full-length production of Peter Pan filmed for NBC in 1955, as well as Sandy Duncan, and Cathy Rigby’s take on the role:
Mary Martin announces Sandy Duncan as Peter Pan (1979).
Cathy Rigby as Peter Pan (1999).