BWW Review: FINDING NEVERLAND at the Hippodrome - It's a Memorable Musical That Is Both Thrilling and Magical!
I always find it exciting to see a musical I know nothing about and FINDING NEVERLAND fits that bill. I remember watching Jennifer Hudson sing "Neverland" on the 2014 Tony Awards and recall watching the cast perform on the NBC "Thanksgiving Day Parade" in November, 2014. The cast included Matthew Morrison, Kelsey Grammer, Laura Michelle Kelly and Carolee Carmello. However, the Tony Awards snubbed the musical with no nominations. After seeing the show this week, I do not understand why. I found the musical absolutely wonderful and worthy of a Tony nomination for Best Musical. FUN HOME won the Tony for Best Musical in 2015 beating out SOMETHING ROTTEN!, THE VISIT, and AN AMERICAN IN PARIS. There were no nominations for FINDING NEVERLAND.
FINDING NEVERLAND began in England, came to The American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, MA under the tutelage of Tony winning Director Diane Paulus (PIPPIN) and opening on Broadway in 2015. It was certainly under my radar. I do not know one person who saw the show and showed up with great expectations. I was not alone about beaming about the show with others like me who nothing about it but yet the audience was quick to give the talented cast a standing ovation. Kudos to Paulus who does a superb job as Director. There was also a successful 2004 film with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet.
The story is based on the real life of author J.M.Barrie who in Victorian England was a successful playwright and worked for the famous impresario Charles Froeman. Froeman is played by the multi-talented John Davidson who doubles as Captain Hook. Davidson well-known by many in the theater for his work on television was given a warm welcome when he came on stage and he truly look like he relished his time on stage for both roles. He has much experience in theater (see my interview at /article/BWW-Feature-John-Davidson-Flies-into-Baltimore-Joining-the-Cast-of-FINDING-NEVERLAND-at-the-Hippodrome-Theatre-20170623).
and it shows. He has a beaming great voice, super comedic timing, and great stage presence. It is a great bit of casting.
Playing playwright Barrie is Billy Haggingan Tighe (well-known for his role as Elder Price in BOOK OF MORMAN) and it's a terrific performance. Barrie is having trouble finding a new play for Froeman and thanks to the a group of four young boys playing in Kensington Gardens (the children of widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies played by the wonderful Christine Dwyer) who put a spark in his mind which lead to his eventual new play featuring Peter Pan. You will see how "Tinker Bell" became a part of the story, how Captain Hook got his hook, how Wendy became a "mother" figure, and how imagination is so crucial to young people. Speaking of young people, the four new actors making their tour debut were all terrific and loved by the appreciative audience. The new boys just starting out on the tour in Baltimore shine in their roles: Turner Birthisel (Peter), Connor Jameson Casey (Jack), Michael Cirbus (Michael) and Bergman Freedman (Jack) are all terrific. When in Act 2 they perform the play "Peter Pan" for their mother and Barrie is enthralling.
The back-story of "Peter Pan" reminded me of the film regarding the making of the film "Mary Poppins" entitled "Saving Mr. Banks". I always find it fascinating to see how stories, books, films, or plays get off the ground.
Playing Barrie's wife Mary Barrie is Kristine Reese who just happens to be the "real" wife of actor Tighe who plays "Barrie".
One of the toughest roles in a Broadway show is a "swing" who must go on in a moment's notice for an actor. On opening night "swing" Connor McRory took over for Thomas Miller in the fun role of stage manager Elliot and proved to be very capable. He got a nice ovation from the audience.
After the show I was determined to find out which actor played the dancing bear who has a great leap during the first act. That role is played by the capable Calvin Cooper.
Another standout from the talented ensemble is Dwelvan David who in Act II when the rehearsal begin for the "Peter Pan" gets to play a dog (and there is a real one in the show who gets the same reaction the dog in ANNIE got thanks to Animal Trainer William Berloni).
The entire ensemble needs a "shout out" for the their high energy and great dancing thanks to the clever choreography by Mia Michaels.
To make a musical enjoyable it needs to provide a terrific score and the talented team of Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy provide some marvelous tunes that I enjoy now everyday thanks to the wonderful CD. The Book by James Graham also adds to the charm of the show.
You can expect much magic in the production thanks to the work of Projection Designer Jon Driscoll, Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner, great Costumes by Suttirat Ann Larlarb, Sound Design by Jonathan Deans (one can hear each and every lyric) and Scenic Designer Scott Pask. There is special work by Paul Kieve (Illusions) and Daniel Wurtzel (Air Sculptor). Have you ever seen "Illusions" and "Air Sculptor" before in a Playbill??
The tour continues for 45 weeks and includes a three week tour of Japan.
I also just noticed that Harvey Weinstein (one of the producers) is thinking of making the musical into a film.
By the way, bring the kids. They will love it.
FINDING NEVERLAND has a short stay. There are performances Friday night at 8, Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m., Saturday night at 8 p.m., Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m. and Sunday night at 6:30 p.m.
THIS AND THAT
Catch HAMILTON'S Phillipa Soo singing on "A Capital Fourth 2017" on WETA at 8 p.m. July 4th (repeating at 9:30 p.m.)
NEWSIES is back on the big screen coming to a theater near you on Saturday, August 5, and Wednesday, August 9. (Visit www.fathomevents.com).
What a summer for musicals in the Baltimore/Washington area. At the Kennedy Center you can see HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, THE SOUND OF MUSIC, THE KING AND I and CABARET.
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR has been extended at the Signature Theatre until July 9. Next will be A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC opening Aug. 15.
There is RENT at the National Theatre.
MY FAIR LADY is at the Olney Theatre Center followed by IN THE HEIGHTS opening Sept. 6.
At Toby's Dinner Theatre there is JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT followed by DREAMGIRLS.
MAMMA MIA! comes to Wolf Trap July 18 and 19.
For outdoor musicals head to the Annapolis Summer Garden which has THE FULL MONTY and later IN THE HEIGHTS. Also in Annapolis is ALWAYS PATSY CLINE and GODSPELL.
For outdoor musicals head to the Annapolis Summer Garden which has THE FULL MONTY and later IN THE HEIGHTS. Also in Annapolis is ALWAYS PATSY KLINE and GODSPELL.
One of the best kept secrets on Broadway is the free Broadway shows playing at Bryant Park each Thursday beginning July 6 until August 10 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m.
On July 6: STOMP, GROUNDHOG DAY, WICKED and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.
On July 13: KINKY BOOTS, BEAUTIFUL, SCHOOL OF ROCK, and SOULPEPPER.
On July 20: WAITRESS, CHICAGO, CATS, SPAMILTON.
On July 27: A BRONX TALE, ANASTASIA, AVENUE Q, and THE IMBIBLE.
On August 3: MISS SAIGON, NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812, and BROADWAY DREAMS.
On August 10, COME FROM AWAY, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, BANDSTAND, and CURVEY WIDOW.
Finally, I was fortunate to catch on Maryland Public Television a one hour special entitled "Young Artists of America: The Songs of Tim Rice". It featured the music of librettist Rice and his comments on his work. The high school students who perform vocally are superb as is the orchestra.
Baltimore's own Emily Reed (Baltimore School for the Arts) excels singing solos from EVITA and CHESS. The concert is available for streaming.