“Dreams come true,” said NBC in its announcement that Girls star Allison Williams was cast as Peter Pan in its upcoming musical production of Peter Pan Live. They’re seemingly benevolent words, “dreams come true.” Unfortunately, there’s nothing benevolent about the Internet, which quickly seized on those words to blast the casting of the polarizing actress in the iconic role.
“Whose dreams are these?” read one tweet. There were several dad-joke plays on how the casting was actually a “nightmare.” One jab, “She’s more of a Smee,” was actually giggle-worthy. It’s hard to blame those who were surprised and dismayed by Williams’s casting. After all, even we’ve written a piece wondering whether her character Marnie on Girls is the worst character on TV.
But while everyone else on the Internet is taking the first star to the right and heading straight on to Haterland, we’re going to hang a left and argue that the casting of Allison Williams as Peter Pan is actually not that bad. In fact, it might even be good.
I’m not just drunk on happy thoughts. Hear me out.
First of all, Allison Williams is a beautiful singer. Sure, her singing voice is responsible for some of the most enraging, squirm-inducing moments Girls has produced, but if you were to separate the blinding contempt you feel for Marnie during those scenes and isolate just Williams’s vocal performance, you’ll find that her voice is quite lovely. Lovely enough to star as Peter Pan in a NBC musical, even.
Here is one such clip, of Williams singing a Kanye West song. We suggest you close your eyes and just listen. (They’ll end up closed anyway, from cringing so much.)
In fact, one could argue that the sheer hatred for Marnie—specifically, the reason we dream about pushing her in front of a speeding taxi after each episode of Girls—actually is a reason why she is shrewd casting. Girls critics can’t stomach Marnie’s selfish immaturity and real-world ignorance, viewing her sense of entitlement for success in her career and personal life without any desire to put forth the effort required to advance in those arenas as both maddening and juvenile. Marnie, in other words, won’t grow up. Hey! What a coincidence!
Now, there’s another element to the backlash to Williams’s casting. It’s the fact that people, whether or not they are confusing her real-life and on-screen personalities, find her to be annoying. Grating. Shrill. Fake.
These people will present this clip of Williams singing a slowed-down, acoustic version of Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” as evidence to support their claim. Watch it only if you are in a safe space, with no objects that could possibly be thrown in arm’s reach.
OK. That clip is annoying. Holy hell is that clip annoying. As my colleague, The Daily Beast’s social media editor Scott Bixby (who is an expert on things like gauging Twitter reaction and being a little bit bitchy on Gchat—in the good, fun way), said after surfacing that clip, “Allison Williams screams Theater Kid.”
In case the connotation is lost, “Theater Kid” is not a good thing here.
“Theater Kid” is a way to refer that person who is always “on,” who is perennially performing and wearing a shit-eating grin and over-enthusiastic to the point that it zaps the enthusiasm from everyone else in their general vicinity. They’re the kind of person who sits in the front of the class and raises their hand obnoxiously to answer every question. They’re the kind of person who laughs too hard at a joke you made that wasn’t that funny and then punches your arm and says, “You’re such a card.” No one says that for real.
It’s a personality such as this that led to the phenomenon that was groaningly referred to as “Hathahate” a few years ago. (I think I was one of the first people, if not the first, to use that term. And I regret it every day.)
Basically, Anne Hathaway was mind-blowingly amazing in Les Miserables. She was so ridiculously good. I don’t even want to use superlatives here, because they will not do justice to how good she was in that film. And then all anyone wanted to talk about was how she was just a little bit much during her press tour in support of her performance.
It was kind of offensive and a little overblown, but it was because she projected that same “Theater Kid”-ness—whatever that may be—that people seem to be getting from Williams. Well, here’s some good news for Williams, and for all of those who fear that said “Theater Kid”-ness makes her a poor choice for Peter Pan. As it turns out, Peter Pan is theater! It is musical theater! Hey, I wonder if the fact that Williams seems like she lives each day as if she’s in a Broadway show would make her a good fit for performing a televised version of an actual Broadway show?
Carrie Underwood was confusingly cast in Sound of Music Live! last year, and we all learned that didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that she was an odd choice for the role or that her performance was even more odd. She was famous and the musical was event programming and a whole lot of people tuned in to watch it. Given that, it was abundantly clear that NBC was going to star-cast the lead in Peter Pan with a famous person.
Fingers were crossed early on and NBC said it actually did reach out to Kristen Bell for the part, but if you really believed Kristen Bell, whose career is hotter now than it ever has been, was really going to spend five months rehearsing for a one-night-only production of Peter Pan, then you might as well believe in fairies, too.
Me? I believe in Allison Williams.