BWW Feature: FINDING NEVERLAND Tour All Part of Learning to Fly
FINDING NEVERLAND is touring city to city teaching imagination and aviation, now through 2018. The semi-biographical Broadway musical follows "PETER PAN" playwright and novelist J.M. Barrie as he finds Neverland in the London home of a dear friend, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, a recent widow perishing from cancer, and her young sons.
FINDING NEVERLAND begins with Barrie's first encounter with Sylvia, whose sons are a rambunctious lot and lovers of the fantastic. All except for Peter who, you see, is too mature for make believe. Barrie discovers that both he and Peter need to regain their youth. But being that the Fountain of Youth is fictional, Barrie turns to the real for restoration. Peter, Sylvia and Barrie are the beloved characters behind Peter Pan, Wendy and Captain Hook, beloved characters debuted in Barrie's enduring stage play, PETER PAN; OR, THE BOY WHO WOULDN'T GROW UP.
James Graham (book), Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy (music and lyrics) adapted the musical from the 2004 film, also titled FINDING NEVERLAND, and the stage play THE MAN WHO WAS PETER PAN, written by Allan Knee. The back-of-house is equally inspired: Tony Award®-winning director Diane Paulus (PIPPIN and HAIR); choreography from Emmy Award®-winner Mia Michaels; scenic design from Tony Award®-winner Scott Pask (PIPPIN); lighting design by Tony Award®-winner Kenneth Posner (THE COAST OF UTOPIA); costume design by Suttirat Larlarb (OF MICE AND MEN); and sound design by Tony Award®-nominee Jonathan Deans (LA CAGE AUX FOLLES).
The touring production features Billy Harrigan Tighe as J.M. Barrie, Christine Dwyer as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, and Karen Murphy as Sylvia's stately mother, Mrs. du Maurier. Murphy, who graciously sat for an interview with BroadwayWorld, fits into the who's who of Broadway like a cylinder piece in a sorting cube. She's been a regular for over 20 years, and in that time she's shaped not only a successful acting career but, most recently, her FINDING NEVERLAND character as well. Take a look at the edited, condensed version of the conversation with the veteran actress, a card, jack and queen in equal measure.
Can you tell me a little bit about your character and her place in the show?
Karen Murphy: I am the female lead's mother. And I am the imperious grandmother to the four boys, Mrs. du Maurier.
It's interesting to me that the press release described you as a veteran Broadway actress. I want to know-
Karen Murphy: One of the lucky ones.
[Laughs] How did this help when you were creating your character?
Karen Murphy: Well, just being in show business as long as I have, because the character I play is also a survivor. She endured tremendous disappointments in life. She was widowed and struggled financially. I've not been widowed, but I've been divorced. And I've struggled financially, so life helped me prepare for this part, too.
In show business, I've learned from those I work with. I am surrounded in this project by very talented people. There is another [long-time], experienced actor who is in the show - Tom Hewitt [Producer Charles Frohman, Captain James Hook]. I stand in the wings and watch him every night. Every night, I watch how good he is. Every night, I watch his commitment. And I'm very inspired by that. So we all support each other. We are a team, quite literally, a team and a travelling family. That is inspiring every day.
When I talk to younger actors in touring Broadway shows, they say how grateful they are that some of the more seasoned performers teach them tips here and there.
Karen Murphy: That's the long tradition. And to spread the pebble in the water even further, we go into some (what I think of as) historic houses. I played the Paramount Theatre in Seattle.
Karen Murphy: -- which has been around for a really long time. To stand on the stage and to know that [so many] have performed on that stage -- it's a big thrill to follow in that tradition.
How long have you been on Broadway?
Karen Murphy: My Broadway career began with Alan Menken's A CHRISTMAS CAROL in 1994. Subsequent to that, I was in TITANIC (on Broadway) and 42ND STREET, another Alan Menken piece. KING DAVID. ALL SHOOK UP. 9 TO 5. So, if you're doing the math, my Broadway career began about 22 years ago.
That is a long time.
Karen Murphy: Yes, but here's the key: I am not, nor was I ever, an ingénue. So I was not penalized for turning 37.
Karen Murphy: I started working more.
Can you tell me more about your process in creating the character?
Karen Murphy: I'm a reader in general. I love reading fiction and nonfiction. I am also an addict - I completely acknowledge that I'm an addict, but I'm not in a 12-step program [Laughs] - of Turner Classic Movies. I love, love watching the classic movies. That's all study. That's all school. Observing the great artists who are forever immortalized on film. I see the hairdos and I see the costumes and who is corseted and how you move in them and what manners are appropriate to the time. All of that is school and part of the education, so all of that prepared me.
Specifically, for [the FINDING NEVERLAND] audition, I actually looked a lot at Maggie Smith in DOWNTON ABBEY. That's also about the same time and an imperious grandmother. I think of myself, to quote Agnes Gooch [a supporting character in AUNTIE MAME, a 1958 film starring Rosalind Russell], as "being a sponge." I take it in and then it's my job as an actor to create and throw out choices. And the director [Diane Paulus] and the musical director [Ryan Cantwell] said, "Yes, I like that" or "Fine tune this." It's a collaborative process, but that's how I do my homework.
And it never stops. I'm always thinking about what parts are coming my way next and what I need to know about. Am I going to do DRIVING MISS DAISY? What was her life like? What was her town? What were the social mores of her world? I'm always looking ahead.
Were there any difficult [aspects] about the character for you?
Karen Murphy: Recognizing that my daughter is sick and dying and facing life without her, then what happens in the story: I end up singing at the end of the show, with my grandchildren, a rather joyous sort of song. I had to think long and hard about it. "How can I be standing here singing joyously when my daughter's gone and I have these four grandchildren?" I had to navigate that. That was a challenge. I figured it out. [Laughs]
How did you figure it out?
Karen Murphy: [Mrs. du Maurier's] job going forward as a human being is to be a rock for her grandsons and to encourage them to live, and to embrace life, and to fly. That is the metaphor. That's the last lyric in the show -- "Fly." That is ultimately the message. No matter what horrible turn life has thrown at you, you have to keep flying.
Karen Murphy is an actress, vocalist, and recording artist. From stepping in for Angela Lansbury during the Broadway revival of A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC to earning a Drama Desk nomination for the off-Broadway musical MY VAUDEVILLE MAN, she has enjoyed an expansive Broadway career. In addition to the FINDING NEVERLAND national tour, she has performed in national tours for LES MIZ, WHITE CHRISTMAS, WIZARD OF OZ, and MARY POPPINS. Her album, TORCH GODDESS, is available on iTunes.
Now playing at The Hobby Center in Houston through April 30. Upcoming tour stops are San Antonio, New Orleans and Atlanta. For a full list of performance cities, venues, dates and times, visit findingneverlandthemusical.com/tour. The FINDING NEVERLAND U.S. national tour continues through 2018.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Christine Dwyer as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in FINDING NEVERLAND.
The cast of FINDING NEVERLAND.
Tom Hewitt as Captain Hook and cast in FINDING NEVERLAND.
The cast of FINDING NEVERLAND.