“Peter Pan Live,” an adaptation of the 1954 stage musical starring Allison Williams (star of “Girls”) and Christopher Walken (star of both your dreams and your nightmares), wasn’t perhaps the ratings or critical success that NBC was hoping for. And the post-game discussion of last night’s “holiday tradition” — according to the commercials, though I guess you can say that something’s a tradition if you do it at least twice — has featured a lot of discussion about lesbian subtext, pirate hats and whether this was a good idea in the first place.
But one name that’s gone relatively unmentioned is that of Christian Borle, who played the dual role of Mr. Darling and Smee. It’s not traditionally how that role is doubled-up: The actor playing Mr. Darling often is double-cast as Captain Hook, to make the play’s daddy issues that much more awkward. But Walken as the father of three small children might have been a bit of a stretch — and frankly, the more Borle we could get, the better off we were.
Borle, who made his Broadway debut in 1998 and, after years of being nominated, won a Tony in 2011 for “Peter and the Starcatcher,” has, for a couple of years now, been one of NBC’s most-talented and least-celebrated occasional performers. When the backstage-on-Broadway musical drama “Smash” premiered in 2012, Borle was maybe the least famous but most impressive member of that ensemble cast — even though his role as Messing’s writing partner didn’t give all that many opportunities to show off his skill for singing, dancing and cracking up audiences. (The few times he snuck in a performance were always highlights.)
The Tony winner has also recently guest-starred on CBS’ “The Good Wife” and Showtime’s “Masters of Sex.” Admittedly, saying the words “Tony winner” anywhere outside the island of Manhattan may not carry as much weight outside the island of Manhattan, but even while hidden under a giant fake mustache, wrestling with a live dog or covered in fake pirate tattoos, Borle brought an energy and professionalism to last night’s performance that was born of years on stage.
And it’s the second year in a row he’s pulled that off for NBC — in “The Sound of Music Live,” Borle played the lovable pragmatist Uncle Max and turned a minor supporting role into one of the show’s genuine non-hate-tweetable moments of pleasure.
So this morning, NBC woke up to the reality that stunt-casting its musicals (and let’s face it, as great a tap-dancer as Christopher Walken might be, casting him as Captain Hook wasn’t a creative decision — it was a punchline) isn’t enough to bring in “Sound of Music”-level ratings.
The next live television event NBC tries might not be a musical — rumor has it that it’s looking to adapt Aaron Sorkin’s “A Few Good Men” for the stage (and by the way, if they do commit to that idea, they should consider some casting suggestions we recently made). But if December 2015 brings us another play of the singing-and-dancing variety, NBC might consider building it around the one man who’s proven his ability to carry off this sort of television experiment. Because maybe NBC shouldn’t be trying to bring in stars — maybe next time, it should try to make one.