Musical review: Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland is the story about how James Matthew Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe) wrote the story of Peter Pan by befriending a widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Lael Van Keuren) and her four boys. One of the boys is named Peter, and the death of his father had damaged his sense of childlike wonder.

Barrie too had gotten all grown up, married to a high society-minded woman, having fancy dinners with snooty people such as Mrs. du Maurier (Broadway working actress Karen Murphy), and in need of writing another successful piece for a theater impresario, Charles Frohman (John Davidson – yes, THAT John Davidson) and his troupe.

(I’ll admit I love the stunt casting in these touring shows that my wife and I see at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady. I didn’t recognize Davidson straight off – his hair is much whiter than when I watched his TV show decades ago – but he was a solid performer, as was Adrienne Barbeau from Maude in Pippin a few seasons back.)

Barrie discovers he needs to find his own sense of adventure. And – no spoiler here – he finds it, with Frohman the inspiration for Captain Hook. Indeed, the Frohman character BECOMES Hook, taunting/inspiring the writer. Note that we’re not looking for historical accuarcy here.

The production features music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, based on the book by James Graham. It was all quite serviceable to the plot, with a few pretty good songs. But I will admit that I got a bit misty-eyed at the end of the penultimate scene. It was one of the best payoffs I’ve experienced in seeing theater. If it’s touring in your area, I recommend it.

We did see the movie, also based on the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee. back in 2004 or 2005, with Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, and Julie Christie. I remembered enjoying it, but this iteration, I believe, had a more of an emotional wallop.

Finding Neverland, the musical, ran on Broadway for 565 performances in 2015 and 2016, with Matthew Morrison, the teacher from the TV show Glee, as Barrie; Kelsey Grammer, who starred as Frasier on TV, as Frohman; and Carolee Carmello as Mrs. du Maurier. Morrison and Carmello were nominated for Tonys but did not win.

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