BWW Exclusive Interview: Alanna Saunders, PETER PAN LIVE's Tiger Lily, Chats Whirlwind Casting, Authentic Updates, and Christopher Walken
With Thanksgiving now past, we are less than one week away from the television event of the season, at least for musical theatre fans, PETER PAN LIVE!. As anyone who reads BroadwayWorld or watches NBC knows, PETER PAN LIVE! is the follow up to last year's enormously successful THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE!. Allison Williams will play the boy who wouldn't grow up, while legendary actor Christopher Walken will play the scourge of the seven seas, Captain Hook. Also in the company are Tony winner Christian Borle (Mr. Darling and Mr. Smee), five-time Tony nominee Kelly O'Hara (Mrs. Darling), Broadway's Taylor Louderman (Wendy Darling), and an ensemble full of some of the theatre's best young talent.
Rounding out this incredible ensemble is newcomer Alanna Saunders, who plays Indian Princess Tiger Lily. Earlier this week, I spoke with Alanna about the whirlwind ride that brought her to the breakout role. Alanna, who is of Cherokee heritage, also discussed the updates the creative team is making, so that the Native American elements of the show are more authentic (and less offensive).
PETER PAN LIVE! airs on Thursday, December 4th on NBC at 8/7c, and BroadwayWorld will have complete coverage of this special musical event. Now, check out my full conversation with Tiger Lily, Alanna Saunders:
BWW: So, it's been quite a six months for you. You graduated from college in May, you then went on and did GYPSY with Leslie Uggams in July, and then in September you were cast in this. You're kind of making it look like this showbiz thing is easy!
Alanna: (Laughs) I am definitely blessed, and the luckiest girl there is. It's been a crazy ride. I can't really believe I got this. I've been doing summerstock theatre at Connecticut Rep for, this is my third year, so it was wonderful to have a part and to be able to work so closely with Leslie, but that one wasn't as much of a shock as this whole thing was.
What was the audition process like for PETER PAN?
Right after GYPSY, I came to New York, and I saw, a week later, that they were doing an open call for Tigerlilly. It wasn't a normal open call, where everyone just comes, you had to send in your stuff initially, and then they would give you a time.
So, that happened two weeks after I moved here. I did that first audition, and we did songs and monologues in the morning, and they talked with us, and then that afternoon we did the first dance call. I don't know how many were at that first call, but at the dance call there were 24 of us that got asked to come back and dance.
And then at the end of that day, they kept seven of us, and we learned more of the dance. I think the dance call, in total, was almost four hours. It was quite the day. I was riding on a high from that day, because at the end of that day they brought us in each individually with Bernie (Telsey) and in front of the cameras, and he was like, "Oh, we would like you to come back in a month, and basically do this for us again and for the creative team."
Wow, to go through all of that, and then to be cast in one of the biggest musical events of the year, that had to be quite the rush.
It was. Really every step of the process, I was just amazed that I was still there.
Well, I am sure it was well deserved. What has it been like working with not only this great cast, but the creative team, Craig and Neil and Rob Ashford and all of these great people as you have gone through rehearsals?
It has been wonderful. Everyone is really open and really supportive. Rob is wonderful to work with. He knows his vision, but he lets you try things, so the space feels really safe; which is nice.
And then, of course, working with my fellow performers is the most incredible. I just get to sit back and watch them work. And Christopher Walken alone is a master class watching him. He's just the most incredible performer I have ever had the honor to watch.
So, how is the show coming? Are you guys going to be ready for next Thursday?
Yea, I really think that we are. We're into much longer days in the beginning of this week before Thanksgiving, which is good, but also like, "Here we go!"
Then on Sunday, we'll start running, and I think on Monday is when dress rehearsals start. But, I think we'll be ready. It's still a process; the flying is really fun, but it's another element, there's just so many moving parts that need to be worked out, and slowly, but surely, we're aligning them all.
One of the things that has been discussed quite a bit about the show is that Amanda Green, has come in to update some of the show's songs and to add in some trunk songs; what can you tell us about some of that updated material, especially "True Blood Brothers," which is a reworked song that you are singing?
Especially with "Blood Brothers" we reworked a lot of the lyrics. We're working with a Native American musician named Jerod Tate, so David Chase, our music director, has been working really close with him and Amanda, and together, we've created a much more accurate, historical version of "Blood Brothers."
Not only have the lyrics changed, so it's actually Wamapoke, but the rhythms we've changed to make them more authentic; the melodies are still the same, but we've made it more true to Native American tribal culture. Of course, the story itself is a fantasy, but it does have Native American elements, so we want to stay true to those.
Absolutely, and that brings up another point; earlier this year, there was quite a bit of controversy surrounding the casting of Tiger Lily in the movie PAN, so Neil and Craig said that they wanted to cast the role with someone of Native American heritage and NBC has been open about the fact that you are of Cherokee descent.
So, I wonder how the understanding of the cultural differences between the 21st Century and the 1950s, when it was written, has impacted this production; not just you, but the whole cast and creative team. It seems like the entire group is taking the responsibility of bringing this show into a more modern sensibility pretty seriously.
Oh, absolutely. On day one of rehearsal, when we sat down with "Blood Brothers," it was about making the whole cast aware that this was something that we're taking seriously; and that they really want to make sure that they were not only not offending people, but also wanting to represent correctly.
It's not necessarily about avoiding, but it's about being proactive about making it true and authentic. And, I think that's why they wanted a Native American descendant actress, because it helps with that authenticity, and the Native American elements within the story.
That's great. Coming into this process, were you familiar with the PETER PAN musical? I grew up on the Mary Martin version, but was this something that you knew pretty well, or did you have to get familiar with the casting notice went out?
No, actually, PETER PAN was one of my first shows that I ever did when I was 10. So, I actually know the show really, really well. Going into the first call, they asked us to do one of the songs, "I've Gotta Crow," "I Won't Grow Up," or "I'm Flying," but it really didn't matter for me, because I knew all three of them. So, the show is pretty ingrained in my head and in my body.
You've been rehearsing now for a few months, and you've said that watching Christopher Walken is master class in itself, and I can only imagine what that's like, but has there been a moment in rehearsal that's stuck out as especially memorable for you?
Just generally, Chris doesn't take himself too seriously. If something happens, he's not just going to ignore it, he rolls with it; that's part of what makes him so funny.
There was this one time in rehearsal where John (Allyn), who plays our Michael, I know it's confusing (laughs), he had makeup on, because it was Halloween, and Chris has this moment when he comes up to John, who plays Michael, and he wants to give him his teddy bear back, but because of the makeup, he went into this full, "Is that you?" It was one of those "you had to be there moments," but he just cracked himself up for a good minute before we could move on.
I'll let you go on this last question, if you could wrap up what you think this experience is going to be like for the TV viewers in a nice, little package, what do you think they can look forward to next week?
It will be really quite a family experience, the comedy with Chris and Allison, who creates this new take on Peter, because she makes him a little bit more modern, and maybe a little bit more dry; as well as the amazing talent that is in the ensemble. I think that the audience is going to be really surprised and happy. It's going to be a really joyful event.
Are you as excited for PETER PAN LIVE! as we are? BWW will be your one-stop-shop for all PETER PAN coverage on Thursday night; we will have a live recap during the show, and we will be live-tweeting @BWWTVWorld, and we'll be keeping an eye out for all of the social media reactions from your favorite stars! I will also be reviewing the show immediately after it's over. Earlier this week I live-recapped THE MAKING OF PETER PAN LIVE! and shared reactions to all of the behind-scenes scoops.
Let me know what you are most looking forward to from the special in the comments below or on Twitter @BWWMatt, and until Thursday, "Think happy thoughts!"
1) Alanna Saunders: NBC
2) Scott Ripley, Leslie Uggams, ALanna Saunders, and Amandina Altomare: Gerry Goodstein
3) Alanna Saunders: Patrick Randak | NBC