Review by Spencer Smith of Finding Neverland: Broadway Series
Finding Neverland, the 2004 film about J.M. Barrie starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, is now a fully imagined Broadway musical. Despite a few technical glitches on opening night, this is sure to become a fan favorite of the 2017-2018 season.
J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe) is struggling to write his next hit. His current play is not doing so well and theatre producer Charles Frohman (John Davidson) is ready to give it the hook. While spending the afternoon in the park attempting to cure his writer’s block, Barrie meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Lael Van Keuren) and her four rambunctious children Peter, George, Jack and Michael. This youthful energy might be exactly what he needs and the croc- I mean clock- is ticking. Anxious to see where this might lead, Barrie invites Davies and her children to dinner. Much to the chagrin of Barrie’s wife Mary (Kristine Reese) and Davis’ mother Mrs. du Maurier (Karen Murphy), imaginations run wild during a very entertaining dinner. After a few rounds of toss-the-toupee, Mary is not pleased and J.M. finds himself in the dog house. Out of favor with his wife, Barrie begins to spend more time with Davies and her four children while Mary starts to spend more time with Lord Cannan (Noah Plomgren). Tighe, Keuren and the rotating cast of four boys have a wonderful chemistry. The intricacy of their relationship is the heart of the show and the fuel that Barrie needs to write what becomes the story of Peter Pan. Tighe and Keuren both have fantastic singing voices and listening to Keuren sing “All That Matters” is itself worthy of your ticket price.
The book by James Graham is absolutely one of the most effective scripts I’ve seen on a stage in a long time. You’ll be laughing out loud when Mrs. du Maurier recalls her wild years (“It was the 60’s”) and the next will have you feeling like Sally Field in, well, almost any movie. The same can not be said of the music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, of UK pop group Take That fame. When their musical moments are centered around character development the songs are most effective. Many others left me wondering what the show would be like as a play. I would pay to see that play. Director Diane Paulus has put the real-life fairy tale of J.M. Barrie right before our eyes and it is one of the most beautifully crafted shows I’ve ever seen. If you doubt me, just wait until Sylvia goes to Neverland towards the end of the show. It’s one of the most technically stunning “So You Think You Can Dance”esque moments but it does not disappoint.
Choreographer Mia Michaels creates one of the shows most debatable flaws. The traditional story (it’s turn-of-the-century London) juxtaposed with the pop songs and very contemporary movement is clearly an artistic choice, but left me feeling the same as I did watching Spring Awakening. If something feels like a distraction I begin to debate its worth.
Despite the debatable flaws, the cast onstage and the show they perform at the Aronoff Center is top-notch. I just wish the two ladies sitting next to me on opening night had looked up from their phones long enough to get lost in Neverland for a few hours with the rest of us.
Finding Neverland continues at the Aronoff Center through November 19.
For tickets, visit the box office located at 650 Walnut Street , call 513-621-2787 [ARTS] or you can order online at cincinnatiarts.org.