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Saturday, February 18, 2017

FInding Neverland (Musical)

Last night I saw the touring production of Finding Neverland, based on the 2004 film that tells the story of how J.M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan. He was inspired by the sons of Sylvia Llewelyn Davis, a free spirited widow whom he was probably in love with, in his own way.

The musical, with a book by James Graham and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, is an examination of imagination. Brought to life by Diane Paulus, one of the best directors of musicals working today, the show does hit high moments, and is especially relevant to creative types. I think especially of the closing number of Act One, when Barrie is visited by Captain Hook, representing his dark side, urging him to not give up on writing Peter Pan.

Paulus manages to do this with a score that isn't particularly memorable. I couldn't hum one of the songs upon leaving, and every time I think of a song called "Neverland"  I can't help but hear the one from the 1954 musical of Peter Pan--it's a hard (impossible, really) act to follow. What I take with me is the visuals, such as the depiction of Kensington Garden in 1903, or the backstage of a theater with a cast trying to come to grips with the parts they are going to play.

The book, by Graham, is full of exposition but also has some good one-liners, especially for the character of Charles Frohman, the American producer who reluctantly backs Peter Pan. When asked if he has a "child inside him," he says no, "I have an ulcer inside me." Dwelvan David, as a rich-voiced thespian, has some great fun when he realizes he's going to plan Nana, the dog. But he brings the house down when one of the boys asks him, "Don't you believe in fairies?"David responds, "Young man, I work in the theater" (Big laugh.) Then the kicker, "I see them every day."

In a clever bit of double-casting (which was done in the original production with Kelsey Grammer), Tom Hewitt plays both Frohman and Captain Hook in a performance that is an absolute knockout (and an actor's dream, I would imagine). Billy Harrigan Tighe, who just started playing the lead this week, makes a bland Barrie. Of course, after Johnny Depp plays a role with requisite weirdness, its another hard act to follow. Barrie's sexuality is something of a mystery (the movie implies that he and his wife had a chaste marriage) and the truth is that when Barrie met Davies she was still married. The musical has them romantically involved, sharing a single kiss, while I don't think the film suggested that.

Christine Dwyer is quite good as Sylvia, as is Karen Murphy as her mother, Mrs. Du Maurier. I think every show I've seen during the season at Smith Center (six, now) has had children performers, who are amazingly good. Since they rotate in and out of roles and are not announced, I can't single any out, but all four boys I saw last night were superb.

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