BWW Reviews: FINDING NEVERLAND Much Lighter Fare Than Real Life of Peter Pan Author J.M. Barrie
Life is not a musical.
Reality is often dirty, gritty, depressing and discouraging. Such is the case with FINDING NEVERLAND, the musical written by James Graham with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. The national tour of the two-act musical takes up residency June 4-9 at the Ohio Theatre (39 E. State Street in downtown Columbus).
The show spins a bleak, dark story of J.M. Barrie, a London playwright who penned PETER PAN, into a sugar-coated confection. Barrie channeled his own tragic past and a friendship with the five boys of the Davies family into the story readers know as Peter Pan. When Barrie was growing up, his older brother David died in an ice-skating accident and his mother Margaret never fully recovered mentally from the loss. Her one refuge of solace was David was now in a place "where he will never grow old."
While living in London, Barrie met the boys of the Davies family. He weaved together the story with the concept of Neverland, where children never grow up, with some of the invented stories of Peter, George, Jack, Michael, and Nico to form Peter Pan. Three of the boys met grim demises. First, George died in World War I. Michael and his friend Rupert Buxton drowned themselves in what was believed to be a double suicide. Finally, Peter became a successful publisher, but he never felt comfortable with being the namesake of Barrie's story. He committed suicide by stepping in front of a subway train in London.
This is hardly the stuff of which musicals are made.
FINDING NEVERLAND attendees are treated to an airbrushed facsimile of the true story. The story only briefly touches on the origins of Barrie's concept of Neverland, instead choosing to focus on a message that if one believes in the power of magic and has confidence in oneself, everything will work out ... just like it does in so many musicals.
While FINDING NEVERLAND might be as factually correct as DISNEY'S POCAHONTAS or James Cameron's version of TITANIC, audience seem to be wowed by the performance of the national tour's outstanding cast. Jeff Sullivan, who plays Barrie, showcases his spectacular vocal range in songs like "My Imagination" and "Stronger." The chemistry between Sullivan and Ruby Gibbs, who plays his love interest and the mother of the Davies boys, Sylvia, seems to be extremely genuine in "What You Mean to Me" and "Neverland."
The traveling company has a roster of six child actors to play the roles of the four Davies boys. In the June 4 performance, Paul Schoeller brings a warmth and sensitivity to his role as Peter while Seth Erdley (George), Caleb Reese Paul (Jack) and Brody Bett (Michael) supply the chaos in the Davies' household.
Conor McGiffin keeps his comic role of Charles Frohman and Captain Hook funny but without it becoming just a schtick. Emmanuelle Zeesman and Ashley Elder are also captivating as Mrs. Du Maurier and Mary Barrie, J.M. Barrie's wife who leaves him early in the show.
FINDING NEVERLAND is a warm, funny and at times touching musical that families will love but would probably cause Barrie and company much confusion about whose life they were talking about. Perhaps there's a place where reality and musical comedies can co-exist. It's a place called Neverland.
CAPA presents FINDING NEVERLAND at the Ohio Theatre at 7:30 June 4-6 and 8 p.m. June 7-8. The show will have two afternoon matinees at 2 p.m. June 8 and 1 p.m. June 9 as well as 6:30 p.m. performance on June 9. Call 614-469-0939 for more information.