Broadway Series’ “Finding Neverland” Shows the Power of Storytelling

Review by Liz Eichler of Finding Neverland: Broadway in Cincinnati

Beautiful Storytelling—that’s a quick summation of Finding Neverland, playing now through November 19 at the Aronoff in Cincinnati.  Adding a few words: Amazing.  Fresh. Joyful. Talent. And of course, Glitter Tornado. Two more words: Go Now.

“Finding Neverland” is a story of how J. M. Barrie formulated the script for “Peter Pan,” using part whimsy, part observation, and part looming deadline. Barrie is a successful playwright in Edwardian London, and meets up with a recently widowed mother and her imaginative young sons.  Barrie rediscovers what it means to be innocent and just “play,” falls in love with the mum, and is inspired to put it on the London Stage.  “Finding Neverland” is a musical, based on a movie, based on a book, based on what was shared or remembered about growing up. Some things are “facts” and some are “improvements,” and some are fun or moving musical numbers.

The star of the show is the visuals in all forms, from the treatment of Tinkerbell, to the richly detailed Edwardian clothing and scenery, the projections and lighting, and the choreography. There is something so fresh about the colors, the movement, and the use of space. I was transfixed.

The story pulls you in.  Yes, a few weaknesses in script, but the story is told so lovingly by director Diane Paulus, and the cast. Barrie is played by CCM grad Billy Harrigan Tighe, a lovely tenor. The child actors are amazing, with great voices and the right level of “realness.”  You may see a combination of Turner Birthisel, Connor Jameson Casey, Wyatt Cirbus, Bergman Freedman, Tyler Patrick Hennessy and/or Colin Wheeler. John Davidson (whom you may recall from TV, hosting “The New Match Game” and “Hundred Thousand Dollar Pyramid”) is great fun and a commanding presence.  Lael Van Keuren (Sylvia) is a sweet and imaginative mother and companion. Karen Murphy (Mrs. Du Maurier) makes you think of Maggie Smith, self-possessed, but also a great sense of comic timing. The whole ensemble is strong, and each knows how to pull out a laugh and enrich the characters.

The inventive movement by choreographer Mia Michaels (you may know her work from So You Think You Can Dance) elevates the show, and is performed by strong and diverse dancers.  So many numbers, including the Circus of Your Mind and When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground, redefine Broadway performance style.

So scooch up close and lose yourself in the amazing storytellers in “Finding Neverland.”  Get tickets at www.cincinnatiarts.org.

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