Finding Neverland – Review by Tim Leininger

‘Finding Neverland’ is a magical ride into the world of Peter Pan

If only the world was not so horribly problematic that we need serious, dramatic theater to warn us of the evils of humanity, then we would have more room for theater like “Finding Neverland.”

Based on the 2004 film of the same name that starred Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet and the Allan Knee play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan,” this Broadway national tour is playing at the Bushnell in Hartford through Sunday, Aug. 6.

Written by James Graham with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and directed by Diane Paulus, “Finding Neverland” tells the story of how J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe) was inspired by Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Christine Dwyer) and her four sons to write the classic children’s tale “Peter Pan.”

“Finding Neverland” is so much of why I love the theater. It is a truly inspirational and uplifting musical that harkens to our childhood to grasp for that last bit of pixie dust that may still linger in the air of our lives, which we hope might fall on us and help us remember how to fly.

The magic lies mostly in Graham’s book, which balances and times the drama, the comedy, the fantasy, and the tragedy proportionately throughout, sometimes weaving them together to create a surrealist world within Barrie’s world and mind.

As Barrie’s imagination begins to take hold, people in his life inspire the characters in his play of “Peter Pan” and they begin to take shape as those characters, leading to musical numbers like “Circus of Your Mind,” “Hook,” and “Stranger.” The evolution of this journey in the latter end of the first act is an exciting and thunderous sight to behold.

As absolutely wonderful “Finding Neverland” is, there are a few problems, most of which revolve around the solo numbers. Barlow and Kennedy are solid songwriters and their ensemble pieces are adequately complex and narrative driven, but Barrie’s and Sylvia’s solos have a tendency to fall into a lazy pop style that gets lyrically and melodically monotonous.
The solos further get hindered by an otherwise gorgeous Scott Pask scene design and Jon Driscoll projection design, especially in the first act during Barrie’s song, “My Inspiration,” and Sylvia’s song, “All That Matters.”

During these two songs, the projections in the background are so elaborate and detailed that they become a distraction from the performers, whom I’m sure were giving good performances, but I wouldn’t know because the projections were a bit too busy and the songs themselves weren’t all that compelling.

Aside from those two instances, “Finding Neverland” is a fantastic show and the cast does a good job of keeping the audience engaged. Though Tighe doesn’t have the same charisma as Matthew Morrison, who originated the role on Broadway, he nails the tenderness and the childlike qualities of Barrie.

Dwyer is also solid as Sylvia, giving her the right touch of subtlety required as not to prematurely foreshadow her character’s journey.

Playing both Charles Frohman and Captain Hook in Barrie’s fantasy sequences is former “That’s Incredible” and “Hollywood Squares” host John Davidson, who gives an impressive turn as Charles and Hook. It should be remembered that Davidson has a number of Broadway and off-Broadway credits to his name.

The cast of Sylvia’s children rotates each night. There are six in the cast, with any two taking a show off, so the other four are playing one of the roles. One night you might get Turner Birthisel as Peter and the next night it may be Connor Jameson Casey. There is no explanation in the playbill as to how the rotation works, so who knows which set of boys will be in the cast each show.

Overall, though, the boys give a good showing. There are some diction issues here and there, but overall they do a good job.
If there are tickets left to see this great show, buy them as quickly as possible to remember how to fly for 2½ hours.

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