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by Michael Portantiere


    Peter Pan.jpg

    Doug Sills Gets the Hook

    His musical theater roles have ranged from the dashing pretend-fop Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel to the strutting peacock Carl-Magnus in A Little Night Music to the over-the-top-theatrical Oscar Jaffee in On the Twentieth Century. He also played a villain, in the creepy person of the masochistic Orin Scrivello, D.D.S. in Little Shop of Horrors. And now, Douglas Sills is taking on the iconic mantle of the villainous Captain Hook in Peter Pan at the Paper Mill Playhouse, opposite the wonderful Nancy Anderson in the title role. During a break in rehearsals for the Charlap-Leigh-Styne-Comden & Green musical, I chatted with him about this juicy assignment.

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    BROADWAYSTARS.COM: I guess you're a little too young to have grown up watching the Mary Martin version of Peter Pan on TV.

    DOUGLAS SILLS: I don't know if I'm too young for it, but I have no recollection of ever seeing it.

    STARS: My memory is that it used to be shown annually, then there was a long break. And then -- I'll never forget this -- they aired the show one more time in the mid '70s. Everyone was so excited. A high school friend of mine hosted a viewing party, and everybody had to bring a jar of Peter Pan peanut butter.

    SILLS: It's amazing how the name Peter Pan is inculcated so deeply in our culture. Everybody has some reference that comes to mind, whether it's the peanut butter or those Peter Pan buses, or whatever.

    STARS: The original story by J.M. Barrie is beloved in itself, and there have been so many popular stage, film, and TV adaptations.

    SILLS: Yes. And everyone loved the Johnny Depp film about Barrie, Finding Neverland. I hear that's being musicalized.

    STARS: What are some of your thoughts on Captain Hook?

    SILLS: I feel like so many of our villains emanate from him. He's sort of the prototype for all who came later -- the whole idea of hating children, losing a body part and having it replaced by a hook. Barrie tapped into old fears about crocodiles, pirates. And it's so interesting, the idea of a boy teetering between childhood and adulthood. "I don't want to grow up! I don't want to go there, it's scary, there's too much responsibility." It's a very Freudian fulcrum. In a lot of ways, becoming an adult is cataclysmic for all of us.

    STARS: One of the great moments in all of theater comes when Tinkerbell is dying and Peter turns to the audience and begs them to save her by clapping if they believe in fairies.

    SILLS: Some people laugh when Peter says that -- at least, the adults do. But they clap. They want to believe. The play was originally written for adult audiences, and I understand there was a big to-do over that moment. Barrie was told, "You can't do that. This is England. You can't ask the audience to interact like that." But he insisted, and it turned out to be the most memorable moment in the play.

    STARS: You actually play two roles in the show, Captain Hook and Mr. Darling. Can you talk about that duality?

    SILLS: It's a fascinating premise. Why wouldn't you have two different actors play those roles? Barrie did it purposefully. There's something about a male adult authority figure that threatens childhood. In Neverland, the Lost Boys want a mother -- but they don't want a father.

    STARS: What's your take on Hook?

    SILLS: When I came into this, my image of him was more towards the genuinely evil. I think of the Grimms' fairy tales, and how they've been so whitewashed, at least in this country. The original tales are very dark and frightening; they're meant to teach lessons, and I think children can take it. With Hook, I thought: "Since there's so much lightness and comedy written into this show, I'll play him very dark and try to provide a counterweight." Then I saw the sets and costumes for this production, and I thought, "Maybe that's not going to work." So the character is still not completely there, but the director [Mark Hoebee] and I are definitely working to balance the lightness and darkness.

    STARS: As originally played by Cyril Ritchard in the musical, Captain Hook was quite effeminate. What's your opinion on that interpretation?

    SILLS: I think some of that is written into the part. The original Peter Pan story dates from the 19th century, and we have a very different association today when we see men behave in that iconically foppish, effeminate way. You look at those old Biblical movies, and the villains -- Herod, Caesar, Pilate -- are always played by these fey British guys. They're both powerful and impotent. I'm not scared of the effeminacy in Hook. If it seems appropriate and grounded in the reality of the part, I'll do it. I mean, everyone knows Douglas Sills is not exactly Lee J. Cobb or Sam Shepard. I am what I am.

    Thursday, June 03, 2010 at 9:29 AM | Item Link


    Michael Portantiere comes to BroadwayStars with more than 30 years' experience as an editor and writer for such media outlets as TheaterMania.com, InTHEATER magazine, and BACK STAGE. He has also contributed articles and reviews to AfterElton.com, Playbill, and Stagebill, and has written notes for several major cast albums. Additionally, Michael is a professional photographer whose pictures have been published by THE NEW YORK TIMES, the DAILY NEWS, and several notable websites. (Visit www.followspotphoto.com for more information.)
    He can be reached at michael@broadwaystars.com


    The last five columns written by Michael Portantiere:

    07/13/2010: Presidential Material

    07/04/2010: Hardy Boy

    06/29/2010: High School Stars

    06/21/2010: Falling in Love Again

    06/17/2010: A Meeting of the 'mos (and Their Friends)

    For a listing of all features written by Michael, click here.

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