Let me start by admitting something that I’m not proud of.
When I first learned that Allison Williams had been cast as Peter Pan in NBC’s Peter Pan Live, I was gleeful. I absolutely could not wait to sit down in front of the television—with a platter of sad tacos—and savor the schadenfreude of seeing Marnie from Girls unleash her theater-geekdom on national television. And apparently, I’m not alone. Not everyone is happy about this news. Some have blamed the casting on nepotism. Critics like to suggest that Williams and other Girls stars are only successful because of their celebrity parents. (Williams’ dad is NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, though I’d challenge anyone to explain exactly how having visual artists for parents has helped Lena Dunham.) So the idea that Daddy might’ve sprinkled some pixie dust on the casting directors until they planted that feather in Allison’s little green hat won’t do anything to silence that argument.
Others claim that Williams’ voice is strained, judging by her many awkward performances on Girls. (I couldn’t find YouTube links to her versions of “Take Me Or Leave Me” or “Building a Mystery,” but they’re out there somewhere.) Williams, though, claims that these scenes were just good acting. “I made the choice pretty early on, just in terms of maintaining my own sanity, to not try to make Marnie a very studied, exacting singer. Or trained, really,” she told EW earlier this year. “And I’m someone who took voice lessons for many, many years, so in making that decision, it sort of took the pressure off of me to sing perfectly.”
You don’t have to believe her, but I do. It’s obvious that she’s capable of singing beautifully when she wants to. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I started to question my own knee-jerk reaction. First of all, the casting is kind of genius. Williams is best known for a show about young people who won’t grow up. Marnie and her friends are so obviously the Peter Pans of their own private Hipsturbia that they even wear actual Peter Pan collars sometimes. Also, Pan plays with gender roles in a way similar to Girls. HBO’s comedy shows that women can be just as stunted as the man-children in Judd Apatow’s movies. But in J.M. Barrie’s original book, Peter Pan, Or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, it’s only the guys who get to act like kids forever: The Lost Boys even demand that Wendy act like their mother, tucking them into bed at night. So it feels appropriate that a Girls star is the one following in the musical’s tradition of casting a woman to play Pan.