BWW Review: FINDING NEVERLAND at Kravis Center For The Performing Arts
The musical Finding Neverland is about holding fast to the child inside of us that believes in magic - and magic really only works when it is paired with heart. The same heart that makes us unashamedly cry out "I Believe" and claps till Tinker Bell is resuscitated before our very eyes. The fantasy of J.M. Barrie's Neverland awaits you at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in this NETworks Presentations, LLC production of the musical Finding Neverland featuring music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kenned, and a book by James Graham.
This musical stage adaptation is inspired by the 1998 play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee, and his 2004 film adaptation Finding Neverland. The story line roughly follows actual events in the life of Scottish novelist and playwright J.M Barrie (Sir James Matthew Barrie) who was born on May 9, 1860. Though he wrote many successful novels and plays, Barrie is best remembered as the creator of Peter Pan. Just as in Finding Neverland he met the Llewelyn Davies boys while in London. There they inspired him to write Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up - a fairy play about an ageless boy and an ordinary girl named Wendy who have adventures in the fantasy setting of Neverland. Barrie unofficially adopted the Davies boys following the deaths of their parents; and before his own death in 1937, he granted the rights to Peter Pan to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, which continues to benefit from them today.
Set in the late 1800s, Finding Neverland tells the incredible story behind one of the world's most beloved characters - Peter Pan. Somewhat unhappily married playwright J.M. Barrie struggles to find inspiration for his next play until he meets four Young Brothers and their beautiful widowed mother. Spellbound by the boys' enchanting make-believe adventures, he sets out to write a play that will astound London theatergoers. With a little bit of pixie dust and a lot of faith, Barrie takes a monumental leap of faith, leaving his old world behind for Neverland where nothing is impossible, and the wonder of childhood lasts forever.
Billy Harrigan Tighe has a lovely, clear singing voice and an unashamed honesty in his portrayal of J.M. Barrie that speaks to the youthful heart of the character though he visually looks about five years too young for the role. Tighe's has wonderful chemistry with the four Llewelyn Davies children. He is endearingly playful - exactly what is needed to break whatever spell of sadness remains for them over the loss of their father, and forge a bond born of a mutual love of make believe. The four children, as well as their pet dog, steal bits of scenes here and there with their undeniable charm and talent.
Tighe's has little discernable chemistry with Lael Van Keuren as the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies however, and her performance is generally bland. Their beautiful second act duet "What You Mean To Me" which is one of the musical highlights of the show, comes of as lacking in passion though pretty to watch.
Karen Murphy is elegant and imperious as Sylvia's wealthy and protective mother, Mrs. Du Maurier. Matt Wolpe is funny as the long-suffering character actor Mr. Cromer. Thomas Miller is charming as the put-upon stage manager Elliot.
Veteran stage and TV actor John Davidson is delightful as Charles Frohman/Captain James Hook. His energy is easily that of a man many years younger, his singing voice remains unchanged by age, and his sense of humor in how he handles the role are a pleasure to watch. I found myself smiling every time he walked on stage as his performance truly elevates the role.
Choreographically this show is a monumental undertaking. Each moment is clearly staged, even to the last background ensemble response. Some scenes such as those that exist in J.M. Barrie's imagination are intentionally fanciful and/or dramatic, while others are simply stylized. I particularly enjoyed the staging of the songs "Hook" and "Stronger". Having seen this production before I felt that the dancing was not as clean as it could have been, and I missed some of the tight synchronization of movement from the ensemble to which I'd visually become accustomed. The Kravis Center also seemed to present different lighting issues that bothered me. Again, having seen this show before, there were layers of light and texture not there, and the upper portion of the stage was darker than it should have been thus causing us to miss some of the nuances of the design.
Musicians may find it difficult to discern a common musical theme or element to this show. There is a lack of development of a previously stated melody, or a continuity in style of composition or orchestration. More discerning theatre goers may take issue with an eclectic musical score, forgettable melodies but they are sung cleanly by the actors and played beautifully by the orchestra. The most memorable musical moment for me was the heartfelt second act duet between J.M Barrie and Peter "When You're Feet Don't Touch the Ground" in which the actor playing Peter unleashes a surprisingly strong and lovely voice.
There are also some passing jokes that are historically inaccurate for the time period of the late 1800s such as a reference to the stages of grief (not established until 1969 by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying), the use of the word "fairy" to refer to a gay man, and one of the characters mouthing the phrase "What the f-ck!" that give one pause, but must simply be grouped into our collective suspension of disbelief I suppose. These are minor points, and naturally no rewrites are forthcoming. This is a very good show that appears to just have fallen a bit into a tour slump. There is a bit of staleness to some of the actors performances that need to be freshened up with the same eagerness and enthusiasm with which they stated the tour to keep it all that it is meant to be.
The beloved fantasy of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell and the island of Lost Boys lives on in the hearts of millions, and probably always shall. This production of Finding Neverland is visually appealing with its' use of projections, special effects, characters flying through the air, imaginative scenic design, and wonderful production values. These things combined with a compelling written story are enough to please almost anyone.
The musical Finding Neverland made its' world premiere in 2012 at the Curve Theatre in Leicester. A reworked version of the show then made its world premiere in 2014 at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In March of 2015 that production transferred to Broadway to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The Broadway production closed on August 21, 2016 after 565 performances. For tour information: www.FindingNeverlandTheMusical.com.
Composer and lyricist Gary Barlow and Eliot Kenned are British born pop musicians, who both worked as judges on the TV show X Factor (UK). Kenned has contributed songs to film soundtracks such as Spice World, Stepmom, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, Racing Stripes, and Bridge to Terabithia. Barlow is one of Britain's most successful songwriters, having written fourteen number one singles and twenty-four top 10 hits.
Finding Neverland flies on to the Kravis Center Stage Tuesday, January 2 at 8 pm; Wednesday January 3 at 2 pm and 8 pm; Thursday, January 4 at 8 pm; Friday, January 5 at 8 pm; Saturday, January 6 at 2 pm and 8 pm and Sunday, January 7 at 2 pm. Tickets start at $28 and may be purchased at the Kravis Center Box Office located at 701 Okeechobee Blvd. in West Palm Beach, on-line at the Official Kravis Center website kravis.org, or by calling the Box Office at 561-832-7469. For Group Sales, please call 561-651-4438 or 561-651-4304.
The Kravis Center for is a not-for-profit performing arts center whose mission is to enhance the quality of life in Palm Beach County by presenting a diverse schedule of national and International Artists and companies of the highest quality; by offering comprehensive arts education programs; by providing a Palm Beach County home in which local and regional arts organizations can showcase their work; and by providing an economic catalyst and community leadership in West Palm Beach, supporting efforts to increase travel and tourism to Palm Beach County. The Kravis Center is located at 701 Okeechobee Blvd. in West Palm Beach, FL. For more information, please call 561-832-7469 or visit the official website at kravis.org.
Wendy: Mary Kate Hartung
Albert: Karl Skylar Urban
Sylvia Llewelyn Davies: Lael Van Keuren
George: Connor Jameson Casey
Peter: Turner Birthisel
Michael: Wyatt Cirbus
Ensemble: Caitlyn Caughell, Sarah Marie Charles, Calvin L. Cooper, Ixchel Cuellar, Dwelvan David, Nathan Duszny, Mary Kate Hartung, Victoria Huston-Elem, Thomas Miller, Noah Plomgren, Will Ray, Kristine Reese, Dee Tomasetta, Karl Skylar Urban, Matt Wolpe
Flying Effects: Production Resource Group
Stage Manager: Kelsey Tippins
*The cast and stage manager of this cast are members of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
Photo Credit: Jeremy Daniel
Review by: John Lariviere