Peter Pan History
Last Update - Monday, October 18, 1999
In 1950, Leonard Bernstein's musical of Peter Pan, starring Jean Arthur, ran for only 350 performances.

On October 20, 1954, the original production of the current revival of Peter Pan opened at the Winter Garden Theatre, starring Mary Martin, and ran for 152 performances.  This production was later revived in both 1979 and 1990.  The 1990 production starred Cathy Rigby.

Mary Martin's Peter Pan was taped for television in the early 1950's.  During television rehearsals, Mary Martin was in the flying apparatus, when it accidentally crashed into the wall of the television studio.  At the time, Mary Martin was performing on Broadway in The Sound of Music, and she played the role for a week in a cast due to the accident.  (This was quoted directly from the official Peter Pan website).

Before it was a play, Peter Pan was a small story in a 1902 book by Barrie called The Little White Bird. The character of Peter from this novel was developed into the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, in 1904. In 1906, the section of The Little White Bird that originated Peter Pan was published separately as a book called Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. Finally, Barrie turned his highly successful play into a novel called Peter and Wendy (1911).

The play Peter Pan started out as skits acted out for (and with) the sons of Sylvia and Arthur Llewelyn Davies, but turned into one of the most popular plays ever. Barrie wrote the full-length play in reaction to the Davies children's reaction to a  pantomime play. Barrie figured it would be easy and profitable to write a similar play. However, Barrie's script was originally rejected because it was so elaborate. In 1904, plays generally did not involve flying and such frequent and major scene changes.

With the confidence of producer and friend, Charles Frohman, Barrie put Peter Pan into production.  Actress Nina Boucicault originated the role of Peter. And as if having a 37-year-old  woman play a one-day-old boy was not unusual enough, the production of Peter Pan did not follow a traditional path.  Barrie gave minimal character notes to actors, as well as only a few pages of script at a time. He was a perfectionist as a  director, often keeping cast and crew up to 15-18 hours
at a time. Plus, the cast tended to find out about flying at the last minute.

Despite it's hefty technical requirements, unusual rehearsal process and absurd, fantastical plot elements, Peter Pan was a success. It swept England and then the United States in 1905, with Maude Adams as the lead. Adams would go on to play the role of Peter Pan until 1915. Oddly enough however, in all the seasons that Maude Adams played the role, Barrie never got the opportunity to see her perform as Peter.

The role of Peter Pan went on to be played by grown women until the early 1980's--almost 70 years after it's debut--but the memorable Peter Pans have always been women. Pauline Chase was Barrie's favorite.  She played the role for nine straight seasons in London, from 1906-1914.

Another actress who played Peter Pan for nine seasons in London was Jean Forbes-Robertson. She took the role from 1927-1935, in addition to the 1938-1939 season. In London, the role would later be played be such actresses as Hayley Mills and Maggie Smith. On Broadway, Peter Pan has been played by Maude Adams (1905-1915), Marilyn Miller (1924-1925), Eva La Gallienne (1928-1933), Anne Edgar (1946), Jean Arthur (1950-1951), Mary Martin (1954), Sandy Duncan (1979-1980) and most recently Cathy Rigby (1990-1991, 1998-1999). In addition, Peter Pan has been shown on television, been immortalized by Walt Disney as a cartoon film, and been made into two other movies: Peter Pan (1924) and Hook (1992).

Okay, I didn't write that.  But it's pretty cool anyway!  I nicked it from The Theatre Schools web page (DePaul University).  They did a modernized version where the lost boys were a street gang, etc. (in case you are wondering I am not interested in anything but a beautiful original style interpretation).  Their site has been an excellent resource for me!  I downloaded the entire J. M.Barrie Peter and Wendy book (it is now public domain) then printed and read it.  I am having all the creative heads for Stowe's Pan read it as well to help us all get to the core of the concept.  I have also perused The Theatre Schools' study guides.  A neat site at: http://www.depaul.edu/~sleigh1/main.html

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