Review Roundup: FINDING NEVERLAND in Leicester!

The new musical FINDING NEVERLAND just premiered in Leicester on September 22, where it will run through October 13. The cast features Julian Ovenden as James Barrie, Rosalie Craig as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, Liz Robertson as Mrs DuMaurier, and Clare Foster as Mary Barrie together with a cast of 20 and a live orchestra.

Adapted from the much-loved Oscar-winning Miramax film, FINDING NEVERLAND, this exquisite new production is brought to the stage by celebrated Oscar and Tony Award-winner Harvey Weinstein, with direction and choreography by Olivier and Tony Award-winner Rob Ashford (Anna Christie at Donmar Warehouse), a book by Allan Knee (Little Women on Broadway), and music and lyrics by Tony Award nominees Scott Frankel and Michael Korie.

Escape to a wonderful world of enchantment with this musical tale of the life of playwright J.M. Barrie, and the inspiration behind his classic book, The Adventures of PETER PAN. With his last play a failure, James Barrie is crippled by writer’s block and success seems like a far-away land. But then a chance encounter with widow Sylvia Llewellyn Davies and her four young sons sends his heart and imagination soaring, and their friendship gives birth to a magical tale that will live forever.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Alfred Hickling, The Guardian: As long as you accept we're in the realm of pure fantasy, the concept works well enough: Rob Ashford's picturesque staging is never wanting for a spectacular intervention, be it a pirate ship, a vintage car or an enormous St Bernard dog. But it outruns the invention of Scott Frankel's score, which stirs the emotions much as one might stir porridge, in the hope that it will eventually produce a more piquant flavour. Rosalie Craig gives an affecting performance as Sylvia; but although Julian Ovenden's Barrie is personable, you never quite believe he possesses the psychological capacity to write a work as morally ambivalent as PETER PAN, despite the entreaties of Oliver Boot's Hook to lay aside banal drawing-room comedies and connect with his inner pirate. In fact, the most completely realised performance comes from 12-year-old Harry Polden, whose troubled Peter Llewelyn Davies already shows signs of the mental disquiet that would lead to him hurling himself under a train.

Quentin Letts, The Daily Mail: The production has some rough edges. It is too long and surgery will be needed before it goes to the West End. However, it has that special quality, a heart as big as a St Bernard dog. If you like sentimental stories, as I do, you will be in two-hanky heaven…The first half is distinctly inferior to the second. But by the end we have had some satisfyingly soupy airs such as Neverland, Lost Boys and The Change of the Seasons…This may sound like a children’s show but I suspect adults will enjoy it more. The content may also be a little high-brow (literary figures, genteel settings) to make it an international blockbuster.

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: There’s no getting round it: the evening – which spends much time celebrating the value of artistic courage – rarely soars above the realms of the so-so. The problem is that if you know anything much about how PETER PAN came to be, especially if you’ve seen the more picturesque film, you’ll know the story ponderously laid out here…The show flies, literally, at the end when Barrie and his boys – sweetly served on the opening night by Harry Polden, Worrall Courtney, Josh Swinney and Connor Fitzgerald – rise up together to sweep over London but elsewhere, seemingly bound for nowheresville, it appears simply to be treading vacant air.

David Benedict, Variety: You can add songs to pretty much anything and call it a musical, but whether a property truly needs to be sung is another matter. From the gung-ho first-act finale through the more imaginative second act of "Finding Neverland," helmer/choreographer Rob Ashford wields Scott Frankel's music to largely dynamic effect. But although the fluidity of his strikingly handsome production papers over cracks, the show needs a major dramaturgical overhaul of the first act (at least) to make a convincing case for turning the title into a tuner.

Meera Majithia, Pukaar News: The show's stealing moments in particular were the encounters between Barrie and his own inner pirate. The set design team should particularly get some credit. The interiors of the Barrie household had a feeling of grandeur while the pirate ship and classic motorcar both felt so real. Julian Ovenden was superbly cast as Barrie and you really did feel like he was the little boy who just did not want to grow up. Rosalie Craig portrayed the warmth of a mother to perfection, whilst showing her character’s vulnerability. Oliver Boot provided more than a few laughs for the audience as both the arrogant critic Maximillian Blunt and Hook. The four boys however, really stole the show.

Lizz Brain, This is Leicestershire: Finding Neverland's most successful moments are the simplest thanks to beautifully-considered performances from the principals: Julian Ovenden and Rosalie Craig are strong, intelligent actors who make the growing relationship between Barrie and widow Sylvia utterly convincing and heartwarming. Also huge hats-off though to the four boys in the company (young Harry Polden was a standout on opening night)...It's pleasant, enjoyable theatre and the end is predictably emotional for any parent, but ultimately it's a show with an identity issue. Finding Neverland has a lot of great qualities, it just needs to really find itself.

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