WONDER WOMAN & ME: A Personal History and a Few Thoughts

My all-time favorite superhero, going back over forty years…

 

MUSINGS ABOUT THE QUINTESSENTIAL SUPERHERO, FROM MY CRUSH ON THE TV VERSION TO MY IMPRESSIONS OF THE CURRENT MOTION PICTURE RENDITION

Like every other young boy, I had quite a few crushes growing up, ranging from that girl who wore that extremely tiny pink dress on the children’s TV show The Bugaloos to Kim Richards, now known as a Real Housewife from Beverly Hills but back in the day was Disney’s top girl ingenue,

To Phoebe Cates from the iconic 1980s teen movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High,

To Nia Peeples, who was the perfect goddess in the TV version of Fame,

To Kim Fields, AKA Tootie on The Facts of Life, who I wanted to take to my high school prom.

One female form, however, eclipsed them all by a long way…

 

Some scenes from the TV show featuring my all-time favorite crush, courtesy of YouTube

 

To say that I had a crush on Lynda Carter due to her portrayal of the ultimate super heroine Wonder Woman during my pubescent years in the mid to late 1970s would be arguably the biggest understatement ever.

I particularly liked how Lynda, as alter ego Diana Prince, would do her spinning transformation into the Amazon princess before going to fight the bad guys.

For a young adolescent boy, Lynda – and the character of Wonder Woman in general – was perfect.

So much so that I still watch reruns of the show on the Me-TV Network every Saturday night, and I’m well into middle age.

Of course the fact that Lynda has aged very well hasn’t hurt my current sentiments.

So when it was announced a couple of years ago that something that I had been waiting for roughly two decades to happen – a big screen version of Wonder Woman – was at long last going to happen, I was glad but at the same time was weary that because of Lynda Carter being the ultimate image of the super hero, whoever would inherit the bullet-stopping bracelets and truth-inducing golden lasso would not measure up.

 

 

A fight scene from the already box office record-breaking Wonder Woman movie, courtesy of YouTube

 

 

I remember when a film version was considered in the 1990s thinking that Charisma Carpenter, a tall brunette best known for her portrayal of mean girl Cordelia on TV’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer, would make an excellent Wonder Woman because she had a resemblance to Lynda, but that version never got off the ground.

Nor did an attempt at a new TV series in 2011 featuring Adrianne Palicki from Friday Night Lights in a black wig, wearing pants rather than the famous sleeveless leotard, which failed miserably.

When Gal Gadot was introduced as the one taking over for Lynda in the just released movie, my attitude consisted of three words:

“Wait and See”.

It was no secret that I would be watching this new film version of Wonder Woman with an extremely critical eye, to see if the former Miss Israel would do the character justice.

After checking Gal’s portrayal out the other day, my verdict came in…

Gal was an EXCELLENT choice, along with being the right choice, to portray Wonder Woman as she did an absolutely wonderful job.

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VSB4wGIdDwo

One of the trailers for the just-released feature film version of Wonder Woman, courtesy of YouTube (just click on the link).

 

 

 

Besides being the appropriate height as she stands at 5′ 10″, Gal’s version of the heir to the throne of  Themyscira was also different from Lynda’s in one significant sense…

Her fighting skills were reminiscent of Xena, the Warrior princess from that 90s TV series, which was extremely cool; Gal’s Wonder Woman could certainly kick Lynda’s Wonder Woman’s – who didn’t do much more than push the Nazis and other bad guys around – butt in a fight.

And much like Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games, Wonder Woman – both Lynda’s and Gal’s versions – provides young girls something that is SO needed these days;

A strong female role model: Someone who is smart, can kick butt, and can more than take care of herself but who also has the ability to nurture and care for those who need caring.

In short, I was concerned that Gal wouldn’t measure up to Lynda, but those concerns were alleviated as the producers made the right choice.

In fact, as I was unable to finish Wonder Woman due to circumstances beyond my control, I plan to go see the movie again, contributing to a film that I’m sure will end up being the top grossing movie of 2017.

I certainly hope the producers have told Patty Jenkins, who directed this blockbuster, these six words…

“Get ready to direct the sequel.”

Because a sure as I’m writing this, one will be coming within the next three years.

 

 

My number one celebrity crush as a young pubescent and adolescent in the 1970s…

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FOUR LIVE MUSICALS THAT NEED TO BE SHOWN ON NETWORK TV

HAIRSPRAY LIVE! -- Season: 2016 -- Pictured: (l-r) back row: Ephraim Skyes as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle, Martin Short as Wilbur Turnblad, Dove Cameron as Amber Von Tussle; middle row: Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton, Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin, Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad, Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad, Kristin Chenoweth as Velma Von Tussle, front row: Shahadi Wright Joseph as Little Inez, Derek Hough as Corny Collins — (Photo by: Brian Bowen Smith/NBC)

HAIRSPRAY LIVE! — Season: 2016 — Pictured: (l-r) back row: Ephraim Skyes as Seaweed J. Stubbs, Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle, Martin Short as Wilbur Turnblad, Dove Cameron as Amber Von Tussle; middle row: Ariana Grande as Penny Pingleton, Garrett Clayton as Link Larkin, Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad, Maddie Baillio as Tracy Turnblad, Kristin Chenoweth as Velma Von Tussle, front row: Shahadi Wright Joseph as Little Inez, Derek Hough as Corny Collins — (Photo by: Brian Bowen Smith/NBC) Photo courtesy of hugogloss.com

 

Some thoughts on productions like the recent “Hairspray Live!” that have been aired by NBC and Fox, and what I think should be shown next.

 

Last Wednesday I saw “Hairspray Live!”,  NBC’s fourth live action musical production after beginning in 2013 with “The Sound of Music Live!”, followed by “Peter Pan Live!” in 2014 and “”The Wiz Live!” in 2015.

I thought it was okay, Maddie Baillio doing a pretty good job  – for her first professional role – as lead character Tracy Turnblad with Jennifer Hudson as Motormouth Maybelle and Ariana Grande as Tracy’s best friend Penny Pingleton using their considerable vocal abilities to bring down the house, particularly at the end with their duet in “Come So Far (Got So Far To Go)”.

 

The 2007 movie version of Hairspray’s “You Can’t Stop The Beat”. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

Though I felt that the 2007 movie version and the original film in 1988 were better, “Hairspray Live!” was good enough a solid A for effort and a B for execution.

As I watched the live version on NBC, it got me to thinking what Broadway musicals should next be produced on network television as ever since “Sound of Music”, it has been a trend for NBC as well as Fox, who produced “Grease Live!”in January to much acclaim, to show live action musicals as they did with Peter Pan starring Mary Martin in the late 1950s and early 60s.

I won’t waste any more time – here are the four productions that have been famous smashes on Broadway that I would like to see…

 

GODSPELL

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The cast of the 1973 movie version of Godspell, featuring Titanic’s Victor Garber (fourth from left) as Jesus Christ. Photo courtesy of imgarcade.com

 

I really liked the movie version of the story of our Lord and Savior according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, and it would be perfect for this to be shown live Easter Week or Christmas Week.

I can totally see people going nuts with this signature song, which turned out to be a hit on the charts in the early 1970s:

 

 

“Day By Day”, the hit song sung by Robin Lamont in the ’73 movie version of Godspell. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

RENT

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The cast of the 2005 movie version of “Rent”, six of them having been part of the original cast on Broadway. Photo courtesy of  galleryhip.com

 

When I saw this film based on the 1996 Broadway smash about young people dealing with poverty, drugs, homosexuality and AIDS, I cried my eyes out because it spoke so loudly to me about following my dreams.

Not to mention it being my Generation X’s contribution to the Great White Way.

 

 

“Seasons of Love”, part of the opening to the 2005 film version of Rent. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

Considering the issues covered and the cultural and political climate today, as great as “Rent” is I don’t expect a production of this to appear live on TV anytime soon.

But it would sure be cool if was; I, along with I reckon millions of others, would love to see it.

 

 

PIPPIN

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Ben Vereen, William Katt, and Chita Rivera in the 1981 Canadian TV version of “Pippin”. Photo courtesy of YouTube.com

 

This would be cool to see live on network TV for two reasons:

  1. Two of the songs in particular, “Magic To Do” and “Corner of the Sky”, are great tunes, and…
  2.  It eloquently tells the story of a young man trying to find himself and where he fits in the world, something we can all relate to – in a sense, I’m still trying to find mine!

 

“Magic To Do”, Pippin’ s opening number sung by Ben Vereen which became a hit on the charts. Courtesy of YouTube.

 

 

ANNIE

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A still from the original Broadway version of “Annie” in 1977. Photo courtesy of broadwayworld.com

 

If you were a seven-to-fourteen year old girl starting in 1977 and lasting through the 80s and 90s and even to this day, you were and are a HUGE fan of this production.

How could it not be so with seven girls singing and dancing their heart out over how much of a hard knock life they have, with one of them being so optimistic despite living in an orphanage during the Great Depression that she’s always singing about how the sun will come out tomorrow?

While I didn’t quite fit the demographic of who would be a fan of this show, being a boy and all, I would be surprised if NBC or Fox didn’t put out a live version of this within the next five years.

Well, there you have it.

Hopefully these productions will be shown live as I think they would go over well.

What does everyone else think?

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6UIiT6ry6zQ

The 1999 TV movie version of “A Hard Knock Life” (just click on the link). Notice Modern Family’s Sarah Hyland as Molly, the youngest orphan. Courtesy of YouTube.

Another Belated Review: NBC’s “Peter Pan Live!”

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ONE PERSON’S BELATED OPINION OF NBC’s SECOND LIVE BROADCAST OF A BELOVED MUSICAL (after 2013’s “The Sound of Music” of course), WHICH INCLUDES COMPARING IT TO VARIOUS “PETER PAN” PRODUCTIONS OF THE PAST.

 

I’m about to reveal what has been a – well, I won’t exactly call it a guilty pleasure, but it has been a bit of a peculiar one for the vast bulk of my life…

I’ve been a fan of the book/movie/musical “Peter Pan” since NBC showed an encore of the 1960 version of the Broadway smash, with Mary Martin playing the boy who won’t grow up, when I was around six years old.

Since that time, I’ve seen quite a few versions of Sir James M. Barrie’s story, including the one where – shockingly – Peter actually does grow up: the 1991 movie Hook featuring Dustin Hoffman as that sinister pirate and the late Robin Williams (rest in peace) as the adult Peter Pan who has to return to Neverland to rescue his son and daughter.

I’ve tended to look at the Peter Pan productions over the years with a critical eye, as it’s in my nature to do so; some of the productions I’ve liked more than others.

While the 1953 Walt Disney cartoon version “Peter Pan” featured an actual boy (Bobby Driscoll) in the lead role, the two huge objections I have about that animated film are the liberties and omissions that Disney is notorious for, and especially the grotesquely stereotypical way the Native Americans were portrayed. It was akin to Birth of a Nation, the 1915 epic silent which showed African Americans as less then human, in that context.

As for the Mary Martin version, which debuted on Broadway in 1954 and produced for television several times over the next few years…

I fully understand how Martin is seen by virtually everyone, particularly in the baby boom generation, as the quintessential Peter Pan, but I’m sorry – I just didn’t feel it.

Martin was a forty-someting year old woman playing a ten-year old boy, and I felt that she failed to exude the spirit of a rambunctious, adventurous elementary school-aged male as even at age six, her mannerisms seemed more like an extremely effeminate ten-year old girl; right down to the micro-minidress she wore.

And much like the Disney Version, don’t even get me started on how the Native Americans were portrayed as the pronounced stereotypes that were exuded greatly upset me, so much so that I loudly wondered why various Indian tribes like the Navajo, the Sioux, and the Iroquois did not sue those producers for making them look so bad and making the issue of Native American sports nicknames seem like a big, fat not-a-big-deal compared to this.

Cathy Rigby, who first donned the green tights in 1990 and set the record for the most times playing that flying boy, was in my view a much better Peter as although she, like Martin, was in her forties and fifties playing a young boy, she was far more effective in conveying that masculinity.

I liked Hook a lot due to the fact that it finally answered the question I’m sure many people were asking, at least to themselves: “What if Peter Pan grew up?”  It certainly answered that question for a naturally curious guy like me.

And no one was a better choice than Robin Williams to tackle that role.

The 2003 live action movie version of Peter Pan is my choice of the best version of that tale ever as in my view, no one was a better Captain Hook than Jason Issacs, no one was a better Wendy than Rachel Hurd-Wood, and nobody portrayed Peter better than Jeremy Sumpter – and not just because he was actually a boy, either.

In fact, I wish this line could have somehow been added to that film:

“Unlike some other Peter Pans, I am an actual boy.”

The first-love angle in that film was particularly impressive as the kiss that Wendy gave Peter on the pirate ship was the best first kiss in movie history, and certainly the best first kiss on any screen since Kevin Arnold kissed Winnie Cooper on that rock in the first episode of TV’s “The Wonder Years”.

That brings us to the recent NBC production that was hyped to the ceiling and starred veteran actor Christopher Walken as Hook and Allison Williams, from HBO’s “Girls”, as the forever-a-kid.

I was anticipating this live televised play and fully intended to watch it with a critical eye, to see how Walken and especially Williams fared in those iconic roles compared to those legends who had gone before them.

I sat in my reclining chair to watch it, and after three hours and what I thought were way too many commercial breaks (although the Walmart ones featuring Melissa Joan Hart of “Sabrina The Teenage Witch” fame and her family were nice), here’s what I thought of the whole thing:

1. Walken was okay as Captain Hook as many of his lines were quite witty, but I felt he could have been bit more forceful as there were times when he seemed to desperately want to turn over his captaincy to his main assistant, Mr. Smee (played by Christian Borle, who also played Mr. Darling in a departure from tradition that dictated that Hook and Mr. Darling would be played by the same guy).

In other words, he seemed tired, like all he wanted to do was go into his quarters and take a nap.

2.  The sets were excellent, and I liked the fact that there were new songs, including “When I Went Home” which detailed how Peter found the window to his bedroom locked when he tried to return to his home, receiving loudly and clearly the message that he was forgotten.

And I liked how they replaced that utterly offensive “Ugg-a-Wugg” with “True Blood Brothers”, and how a member of the Cherokee Nation, Alanna Saunders, played Tiger Lily.

3. The Lost Boys should have been called “Lost Young Men” as they were WAY too old, looking like they were growing up despite Neverland’s number one rule. The producers should have casted boys at least five years younger.

 

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Peter Pan (Allison Williams) fighting his eternal arch-nemesis Captain Hook (Christopher Walken)

 

4.  All right, I know you were waiting for this…

What I thought of Allison Williams’ portrayal of Peter:

I give her an A+ for effort and a B- for effectiveness and performance.

From the moment she first flew through the Darlings’ window, I could tell that this was a dream role for the daughter of the NBC Nightly News anchor and that she dearly wanted to give it everything she had, which I felt she did as she succeeded in giving off a sense of masculinity, unlike Martin.

And her voice, which not exactly at the level of Christina Aguilera or Ariana Grande, was good as I particularly liked her version of “Neverland”.

However, there were a few flaws, two in particular which led me to proclaim Cathy Rigby as the one who remains the best stage version of Peter Pan in my book…

The fact that she portrayed Peter as a mature 17-year old high school sports captain instead of what Peter was supposed to be, a ten year old boy with a form of ADHD, and that she was much too mellow in her portrayal as I felt that except for the “I Won’t Grow Up” and “True Blood Brothers” numbers, she desperately needed far more energy than what she gave.

That was especially the case in the final showdown scene between her and Walken as their sword fight looked as if it was done by two ninety-something year old ladies in a rest home.

Indeed, it was all I could do to not jump into the screen and give her caffeine pills and a huge bowl of Frosted Flakes to get her energy going.

Other than those issues, I enjoyed Allison’s interpretation as it was interestingly different from Martin’s, or Rigby’s, or anyone else who donned the green outfit. Her Peter seemed more of a leader than the previous Peters, more in control emotionally when the situation dictated.

The problem was that there were times where the emotions needed to come out, like when she finds out that Wendy (played by Taylor Louderman with Minnie Driver portraying the adult version) had grown up with a child of her own. And it wasn’t there.

The Bottom Line…

I felt that considering it was a one-shot production with no chances for do-overs, though it had a few flaws “Peter Pan Live!” was adequately done as in the grand tradition of “Siskel and Ebert”, I give it one thumb up and one thumb to the side.

Would I recommended it to youngsters, which J.M. Barrie geared “Peter Pan” for in the first place?

Sure, I think they would enjoy it.

Here’s a clip of what I felt was a highlight of the show: