Playing with PETER PAN amidst Pandemic 2020* Fr. James DiLuzio CSP

* PLAYING PLAY DOCTOR (or Lyricist Doctor if you prefer)

*See Endnote

Back in 2014, I was anticipating NBC’s live presentation of the 1954 musical PETER PAN (December 4, 2014). The original cast with Mary Martin as well as the original story of PETER PAN by James M. Barrie was a childhoot favorite. Valuing my childhood memories, I reviewed and researched the score.  I found that the original composers of the musical, Mark Charlap and Carolyn Leigh, wrote a beautiful song for Peter Pan in Act 2 when he, Wendy and the boys are in their underground sanctuary. Entitled “When I Went Home” it tells of Peter’s one and only attempt to return to his home in London. That song was replaced in previews with a song by Jules Styne/Comden/Green “Distant Melody” – a response to Wendy’s request for Peter to sing a lullaby. 

Unlike “Distant Melody” (lovely in its own right), “When I Went Home” provides a significant insight into Peter’s ongoing rebellion toward home, family and growing up.  Although the melody to “When I Went Home” is strikingly haunting, I sensed the lyrics (featured below) a bit awkward, although consistently poignant. You may listen to a rendition of the song sung by Allison Williams on the NBC broadcast:

Here are the original lyrics so you may follow along with Ms. Williams’ performance:

WHEN I WENT HOME Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh Music by Mark Charlap

Lovely, right?  Still, I found a more haunting, instrumental version of the song onthe DELOS compact disc entitled AN AWFULLY BIG ADVENTURE (Songs from various Peter Pan productions).  Track 12 features a stunning new arrangement by Donald Fraser.  I think Fraser’s choice of key signature (A flat) is far more affecting than the key of A –the song’s original setting.

Now for some fun:

When I heard Donald Fraser’s arrangement, I thought to myself: “This is perfect!” so, I composed a revised lyric based on some of the subtle changes Fraser made in the melodic line.  If you can get hold of the Delos CD then my lyric changes will make even more sense.

Here is my “Revised” version (Without permissions I may add!): Footnotes explain my choices.


Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh and Music by Mark Charlap

New and Additional Lyrics by James M. DiLuzio

INTRO (These words set to the Instrumental Intro that was not featured in the song): 

  • PETER: I shall tell you about what happened when I flew back to the house in London —
  • When I went home,
  • I thought that certainly
  • The nursery window would – for sure![1] – be opened wide for me[2]
  • And there would always be A welcome light[3] 
  • When I went home
  • I counted so upon
  • A mother waiting up to question me just me where I’d gone.
  • And we’d talk on and on –
  • I’d be all right.[4]
  • You see, when I went home,
  • I found that, sad to say, 
  • You must expect to be forgotten once you’ve run away[6]
  • And so I couldn’t stay 
  • That lonely night
  • When I went home.[7]
  • When I went home I counted so upon 
  • Somebody waiting up to ask me questions on and on 
  • To ask me where I’d gone– 
  • Was I all right? 
  • But the window was barred, and the door was barred And I felt such an awful dread 
  • And – for sure – there he was! That other boy 
  • Was sleeping in my bed! 
  • Oh yes, (you see), when I went home, I found that, sad to say, 
  • You must expect to be forgotten once you’ve gone away, 
  • And so I couldn’t stay 
  • That awful night When I went home. 
  • I was forgotten. 
  • When I went home.

Now, if this song were to reappear in the play, where would I place it?  I am thinking of two possibilities:

  1. Directly after “Distant Melody” in Act Two. The two ballads back-to-back would present a distinctive contrast. “Distant Melody” fills the scene with nostalgia for one of Peter’s actual infant experiences; “When I Went Home,” builds on that by providing an experience of an older (but not ‘Old”) Peter impacted by the consequences of his desertion.
  2. In the penultimate point of Act Two as a poignant “11 o’clock” number (i.e. the second to last song of the musical).  This would become a newly-created scene in which, after Wendy, her brothers and the Lost Boys have returned to the Darling’s home for good (but before we return to the Darling’s home / the final scene) we find Peter alone with Tinker Bell in Never Land filled with anger and disappointment, he sings “When I Went Home” to Tinker Bell, after which, she surrounds him with her light to comfort him.  Then the story picks up in the closing joyful scene in Mr. and Mrs. Darling welcome home their children and adopt the Lost Boys.  Of course, we would still have the Epilogue in which Peter returns to find Wendy grown-up and whisks her daughter, Jane, away to Never Land.  

Any thoughts? 

NOTE: I have a secret vocation of wanting to be a “Play Doctor” (i.e. one who alters texts, dialogue, song lyrics in a play to improve it).  I have enjoyed tinkering with a song that was dropped from the 1954 musical PETER PAN.  If you would like to see how and why I changed the original lyric and where I would place the song back into the show, see my latest blog. 

[1] “For sure!” is phrase Peter repeats throughout the play’s dialogue.

[2]  The original melody ascends here on “wide” to a “C” then “B flat” on “for me” (if in the same key as the instrumental).  Fraser, however, lowers the note on “wide” to a “A” then “G.”  I think his using descending notes is more appropriate as it anticipates Peter’s ultimate disappointment.

[3] The instrumental version lowers the note for “light” an octave.  I think that is preferable for the same reason noted above.

[4] Mr. Fraser departed from the original melody line here. Instead, he substituted a measure of lower notes to anticipate the bridge; therefore, I would suggest this lyric: “But that was not what happened.”  This line may be spoken instead of sung.

[5] Peter always flies to windows first.  By going to the door after trying the window, he would reveal his desperation. Thus, I reversed the order of the original lyric.

[6] Peter ran away from home.

[7] Fraser’s instrumental repeats the final line “When I went Home,” thus the additional phrase “That lonely night” and the repeat of “When I went home.”