BWW Review: Re-Discover the Importance of Your Imagination with FINDING NEVERLAND

BWW Review: Re-Discover the Importance of Your Imagination with FINDING NEVERLAND

"Once upon a time...." These four little words are the beginning to some of the most beloved stories filled with dreams, love, and adventure. Thursday night they were the beginning to two and a half hours of theater filled with dreams, love, and adventure as The Washington Pavilion kicked off their 20th season with FINDING NEVERLAND.

FINDING NEVERLAND, based on the 2005 Academy Award-winning film of the same name, is the story of how Peter Pan comes to life. With music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, and book by James Graham, FINDING NEVERLAND premiered in Leicester in 2012 with a Broadway transfer in March of 2015 where it ran for seventeen months. The show follows playwright J.M. Barrie as he meets the four Llewelyn Davies children who remind him of the importance of play and the possibility of our dreams. Their imaginative adventures together help Barrie see the world through the eyes of a child and inspire him to create the tale we've all grown to know and love.

Right away the audience meets J.M. Barrie (Jeff Sullivan) and the characters of Peter Pan. The familiar characters are quickly dismissed to bring the story back to its beginning as J.M. Barrie struggles to write his newest play. While elements from Pan are never directly acknowledged, keep an eye out for nods to the story throughout the show as J.M. Barrie draws inspiration from the world around him.

Early on two opposing tones are established that resonate throughout the rest of the show; one through the eyes of an adult and the other through the eyes of a child. These opposing tones are reinforced throughout the show in several ways through changes in music style, choreography that utilizes both flowing and rigid movements, and through Scot Pask's scenic design that uses varying color tones and styles to differentiate the two worlds. Moments when the two views collide create especially memorable moments.

As J.M. Barrie opens up to the Llewelyn Davies children and remembers the power of his own imagination the audience sees a change occur in the leading man. The transformation culminates in one of my favorite scenes of the show during the Act 1 closer, Stronger, in which J.M. Barrie meets his inner Captain James Hook (Connor McGiffin). Audiences watch the character change before their eyes, rolling up his sleeves and embracing his inner pirate, turning away from what is expected and mainstream. Sullivan's performance in this number is compelling and the dream like space in which he inhabits is elevated by the use of digital projection.

Another favorite Act 1 moment occurs during Circus of Your Mind (Part 4). The first three parts performed by Charles Frohman (Conor McGiffin), Mary Barrie (Ashley Edler), and Mrs. du Maurier (Emmanuelle Zeesman) present the obstacles the playwright faces building up to an absolutely dizzying and captivating moment of the show in part four. As projections of gears and a quickly spinning merry-go-round fill the stage there is no question as to where J.M. Barrie's head is at in that moment. I don't believe the same surrealist quality could have been achieved without the projection technique and syncopated choreography.

The central relationship between J.M. Barrie and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Ruby Gibbs) comes together in the Act 2 number What You Mean to Me. While feelings between the two were suggested up to this point, it is during this song that Sullivan and Gibbs bring the characters connection to life as their shadows play behind them, one of those lovely nods to Pan I mentioned above.

Throughout the show there are many moments that tug on the heartstrings. In a cast composed primarily of adults, Caleb Reese Paul as Peter holds his own; especially in the scenes opposite Sullivan where the two interact directly. The cheeky We Own the Night was a particular favorite for me, and a nice break to a dull adult dinner party and a great example of the imagination of a child breaking through the world of the adults. When Reese Paul and the other Llewelyn Davies children prepare for their own backyard show with the song We're all Made of Stars the cast's youngest performers warm your heart with their energy and enthusiasm.

This show is a great reminder that even though we all have to grow up, we don't have to lose our sense of fun and forget about how we saw the world a child. There is so much the adults of the world can learn from children if only we open our eyes to the power of our imagination and believe.

Catch the show at The Washington Pavilion in downtown Sioux Falls, SD through Thursday October 18th!

Photo Credit: Finding Neverland on Facebook

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From This Author Katie Becker

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