BWW Review: FINDING NEVERLAND at The Kentucky Center For The Arts
Billy Harrigan Tighe and the company of Finding Neverland. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow & Elliot Kennedy
Book by James Graham
Directed by Diane Paulus
Review by Taylor Clemons
Entire contents copyright © 2017 Taylor Clemons. All rights reserved.
Have you ever wondered where the beloved classic story of Peter Pan came from? Finding Neverland traces the fairy tale's roots. Based on the film of the same name, the musical first premiered in Cambridge, MA at The American Repertory Theatre in 2014. After undergoing several re-writes, the musical opened on Broadway in 2015, with three of the leading actors replaced, and countless tweaks to the show's overall structure. It played on Broadway until late summer 2016. For the current national tour, the show has been re-worked yet again, with the first three songs in the show being cut and replaced.
Focused on the author of the original play, J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe), the show takes us through his relationship with Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Lael Van Keuren) and her four children: Peter (Connor Jameson Casey), George (Colin Wheeler), Jack (Wyatt Cirbus), and Michael (Tyler Patrick Hennessy). All the while he's being hounded to write a new work by his producer Charles Frohman (Rory Donovan). On top of it all, his marriage to Mary Barrie (Kristine Reese), is headed over a cliff. During the time he spends with the family, they provide the inspiration to the most ambitious play he would ever write. When no one believed in him, this family of misfits were the key to his biggest success.
The show itself, has a multitude of flaws. The first act is very muddled in tone, never deciding until the end of the act whether it wants to be a show for children, or a darker look at a writer coming to terms with his very real and pressing demons. I feel the show really hit a stride with the brilliant production number "Circus of Your Mind". It is from that point on that the show is on the same page with itself. Not to say that the first act didn't have great moments. Arguably one of the best songs in the show "All That Matters", comes about halfway through the first act. It is my personal belief that the second act, makes up for the misgivings of the first. The second act takes a very emotional turn, especially the final 15 minutes which impacted me in a way I wasn't fully expecting.
The performances were all around top notch. Billy Harrigan Tighe leads the company with a great warmth and a voice of gold. His moments of vulnerability with the family are especially touching. The opening of the Louisville stop of the tour just so happened to be Lael Van Keuren return to the company, this time playing Sylvia full time (she opened the tour over a year ago in the ensemble). Lael was loominus. Her presence on stage was always comforting as she personified the very meaning of motherly love. Her voice is a shining highlight, and the aforementioned "All That Matters" showcases it brilliantly. Even though it was her debut, she turned in a polished and spectacular performance. Also re-joining the show at this stop was Rory Donovan as Charles Frohman. While Donovan reads a bit too young for the role in comparison to his predecessors, he manages to turn in a wonderful performance with many great comedic moments throughout.
The supporting cast is extremely talented as well, although slightly under used. Karen Murphy plays Sylvia's mother Mrs. du Maurier. Murphy takes what could easily be a one dimensional character and gives her a fully realized and satisfying arc. The wonderful Kristine Reese (who audiences might remember from Pippin a couple years ago), is criminally underused in a role that doesn't even begin to show what she's capable of doing. The character of Mary Barrie is very underwritten, but even so, Reese finds some moments to shine, especially during "Circus of Your Mind". The four Davies boys (who alternate roles every performance) were wonderful and charming. On opening night Connor Jamison Casey was on as Peter, which is arguably the most developed child character in the show. Many times I found myself moved by his raw emotion.
The direction by Diane Paulus (who directed the revival of Pippin, and the upcoming Waitress) is satisfactory at best. There are moments of brilliance that shine through, but for the most part the direction is very basic. The score is a conundrum for me. It's a bit of a mixed bag. Some things in the score are very memorable, but others leave me somewhat scratching my head. As I've mentioned before, the wealth of substantial material comes at the end of act one and in the whole of act two, that applies to the score as well as the book. The choreography by Mia Michaels is just delightful. She stages such numbers as "Stronger" and "Play" in a way that is very thrilling to watch.
On the whole, I really do like this show, warts and all. No show is perfect, and I feel like this one definitely offers enough good that it's worth seeing, if only for the stellar performances. I do want to acknowledge that this is being marketed as a show for kids, but I don't necessarily understand why. There's nothing in it that is inappropriate or profane, but the point of the matter is that the show's story line is one of complex issues a grown man must handle, and I personally don't think that would've appealed to me as a kid. I could easily see younger children being very bored by the 70% of the show that isn't spectacle. If you walk in expecting to see Peter Pan you'll be disappointed, however, if you walk in looking for an ultimately moving night at the theatre, Finding Neverland will surely meet your needs.
October 24 - 29, 2017
Whitney Hall in The Kentucky Center for the Arts
501 W. Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202