Menu

Essay

The American Voice: The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up

By Adam Greenfield, Associate Artistic Director and 
Sarah Lunnie, Literary Director

When he first flew into the bedroom of the sleeping Darling children in 1904, Peter Pan made an entrance not just onto the stage of London’s Duke of York Theatre but, indelibly, into the popular imagination. In conceiving this “Boy Who Would Not Grow Up,” J.M. Barrie invented a new myth, one that’s permeated our cultural psyche. A century later, the mind boggles at the impact Pan has made on us, not just in our childhoods but in the way we think, the stories we tell and how we understand ourselves. It’s a story that has crossed generations and cultures; sparked conversation about race and representation (it’s a little problematic in that department); and furnished us grown-ups with a metaphor for loss, change, and the irrevocable forward motion of time — one that’s weaved its way into dozens of film and stage riffs, all genres of music, and likely 92% of civic centers, high schools and summer amphitheaters. Looking ahead to Sarah Ruhl’s utterly surprising new riff, we’ve been compiling quotes and notes from all kinds of sources: songs, memoirs, cultural icons and critics, and from some our friends who’ve had a run-in with this play. Here they are, with our green, pointy felt hats tipped in tribute to the kid.

“I am Peter Pan in my heart. He represents youth, childhood, never growing up, magic, flying.”
Michael Jackson (2003)

“Voyager now
Surveyor of ruins
Beautiful mutants
Voluptuous acrobats
Psychotic magicians
Mescaline cowboys
Renegade angels
Amphetamine prophets
Anarchist bike boys
Glittering gods and
ravaging saviors
Rock and roll Aryans
Alchemical freaks
Seek and find the 
unchanged children
Send them back!”
From the never-performed rock musical Neverland by Jim Steinman and Meatloaf (1977)

“As much as I want to believe the contrary, Peter Pan was a very sad young man… For all his gaiety, he was a deeply troubled boy living in an even more troubling time. He was caught in the abyss between the man he didn’t want to become and the boy he could no longer be.”
Dan Kiley (1983), The Peter Pan Syndrome

“When did you change?
Wendy you've aged
I thought you'd never grow up
I thought you'd never
Window closed, Wendy got old I
was too late, I was too late”
“Same Drugs” by Chance the Rapper (2016)

“Scarred by this show. In one of the greatest miscasting disasters in the history of American elementary school theater, I was WENDY. Yep. A group of high school theater nerds from my hometown in Connecticut put on Peter Pan with my sixth grade class. It sucked. The women are all super-responsible and the men are selfish colonizers, it’s a mess. But for queer kids, the confusion of the short hair and the tights and the lost boys and Neverland — it’s one of the first labyrinths of possibility of something else.”
Bonnie Metzgar (2017)director and playwright

“Sleep with one eye open
Gripping your pillow tight
Exit: light, Enter: night
Take my hand
We're off to Never Never Land”
“Enter Sandman” by Metallica (1991)

“I do not think that most children really understand the true significance of Peter Pan, they look upon it as a delightful fairy story, about a boy who refuses to grow up and has delightful adventures and hair-breadth escapes.

It is for the older folk to see the symbolism and philosophy that lies behind, the pathos of Peter, the utter sadness of the Never Never Land...

And so every Christmas in the heart of London, the children of the West End theatre clap to proclaim that they believe in fairies. And perhaps almost unconsciously some of their parents clap also.”
Patrick Braybrook (1971), J.M. Barrie: A Study in Fairies and Morals.

“In the day, we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream. At night, we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines, Sprung from cages out on highway nine, Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line. Oh baby, this town rips the bones from your back. It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap. We gotta get out while we’re young, 'Cause tramps like us, baby, we were born to run. Wendy let me in, I wanna be your friend, I want to guard your dreams and visions. Just wrap your legs ‘round these velvet rims And strap your hands ‘cross my engines.”
“Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen (1975)

“Danielle voiced a concern that seems prevalent among single women these days: ‘I’ve been dating Rick for a year, and he’s lots of fun.

You might say his life is devoted to fun.

He’s always playing laser tag, poker, and video games with his friends. He’s got a go-kart, ATV, and jet-skis. He loves a good time. The problem is that Rick’s 30 and has never been serious about a career. He’s had three low-level jobs since I’ve known him. Life is one big party. Is it too much to ask for a guy who is both fun to be with and a responsible human being?’”
eHarmony staff (2014)

“Sh-sh-sh-
shout to all
my lost boys
We rowdy”

“Bangarang” by Skrillex (2011)

“The mad applause for Tinker Bell in the middle of the performance of Peter Pan is like a reenactment of the storming of the Winter Palace. It's a protection of children's rights to believe in something other than what oppressive reason allows.”
Fanny Howe (1998), Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

“When I see the 5 o’clock news
Comb their hair and shine their shoes.
Stay around in my old hometown.
I don’t wanna put no money down.
I don’t wanna get me a big old loan.
Work them fingers to the bone.
And I don’t wanna float a broom,
Fall in love and get married, then boom:
How the hell did it get here so soon?
Oh, I don’t wanna grow up.”
“I Don't Wanna Grow Up” by Tom Waits (1992)

“My dear Peter Pan,

I loved you so much that Mother said I was crying in bed for you. I wish you could come here and I would show you my puppies and things. Will you come and see us if you ever come to Bexhill. We live four miles from there in the country. We all want to see you again. Will you teach me and Baby to fly. I am sending you my sixpence. The smallest little girl in the photo is me — With love and a hug from Marjorie”
Fan letter to Pauline Chase (1908)

“I saw Peter Pan when I was six — one of my first plays ever. I distinctly remember suspending my disbelief for the first time as the actors flew. I saw the wires, but I didn’t care that I saw them.”
Talleri Adkins McRae (2017), teaching artist

“You’re just a Lost Boy,
Yeah, I know who you are
And you don’t know what you lost, boy,
Too busy chasing stars
You’re never gonna grow up
Yeah, you’re never gonna be a man”
“Peter Pan” by Kelsea Ballerini (2015)

“Patricia,” my mother scolded, “put a shirt on!” “It’s too hot,” I moaned. “No one else has one on.” “Hot or not, it’s time you started wearing a shirt. You’re about to become a young lady.” I protested vehemently and announced that I was never going to become anything but myself, that

I was of the clan of Peter Pan, and we did not grow up.”

Patti Smith (2010), Just Kids

“Of all the exciting shows, the marvelous moments, the happy memories of what now seems a long, long life, Peter and Neverland loom largest in my mind. Partly because I love Peter so, partly because everyone else in the world loves Peter so. Mostly, I think, because Neverland is the way I would like real life to be: timeless, free, mischievous, filled with gaiety, tenderness, and magic.”
Mary Martin (1984), My Heart Belongs