My friend Toni had an extra ticket to Finding Neverland at The Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Since I love musicals, I enthusiastically said yes. Little did I know, this entertaining show would capture both of our hearts with its talented cast, sets, and multi-media “magical” experiences.
Based on the book by James Graham and music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, we learn about the inspiration behind Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie writing of his best told story, Peter Pan.
The scenic design by Scott Pask is filled with emerald green as Tinkerbell opens the show with her illuminating light. The end is so magical, that Toni had to ask an usher how they created the finale.
This is a show from the beginning to the end, where the actors onstage are having the time of their life. The choreography by Mia Michaels is creative and fun, especially in the numbers “Welcome to London”, “The Dinner Party”, “Circus of Your Mind”, “We’re All Made of Stars”, “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground” and “Neverland.”
Stuck in a rut writing formula plays for a theatre company, Barrie played by the talented Billy Harrigan Tighe happens to meet a widow Sylvia Llewellyn Davies played exquisitely by Broadway star Christine Dwyer and her four imaginative boys at Kensington Park. Three of the boys Michael, George and Jack pretend they are pirates and let their imaginations run wild with make believe adventures, while son Peter is more in a pensive mood, often with his nose in a book. We soon learn that Peter took the death of his father the hardest. He has had to grow up too fast, after this devastating loss.
While talking to their mother and watching the boys play, Barrie’s life soon turns around 180 degrees as he observes and writes about his new friends. Life is too absurd to be taken seriously, so Barrie scraps his “formula” plays and writes a new type of play to help his theatre company rise up again with a successful hit.
Projection designer Jon Driscoll illuminates a back screen to take the audience to the streets of London. We notice images of rolling clouds and moving water in a river that seem so real.
A few scene stealers include Tom Hewitt as Theatre Producer Charles Frohman and Captain James Hook, Barrie’s darker alter ego. Hook offers advice in a comedic fashion to inspire Barrie to write and follow his instincts, purely from the heart with a childlike imagination.
Others who stand out are Karen Murphy as Mrs. du Maurier, the boys grandmother hoping she will not be cast as the crocodile, and Dwelvan David as the reluctant furry dog character in Peter Pan who receives a few hearty laughs.
Two “awe” moments are whenever the beloved labradoodle prances onstage and when the four brothers pick up instruments and perform, “We’re All Made of Stars.” Both pull on the heart strings of the audience.
After a 15 minute intermission, the second act takes the audience to the backstage of the theatre company and we are throughly entertained with the number, “The World is Upside Down.” The story blossoms as Barrie teaches Peter and the serious method actors in his theatre company, how to be more child-like and remember when simple things were fun.
We learn how Tinkerbell might have been named “Shiny Bottom” if Peter didn’t collaborate with Barrie. Peter is so grateful to Barrie for giving him the best present ever, and the entire audience claps loudly (before the curtain call), to save Tinkerbell and Sylvia from fading away.
Too sick to attend the opening night performance of Peter Pan in front of a London audience, Sylvia and the boys encourage Peter and Barrie to go to the show, even after they insist on staying with her. Afterwards, they return with the theatre troop to reenact the show for her one last time. All is not lost when we have light, everlasting light.
The final scene with Sylvia’s swirling robe and a big handful of magic dust sparkling above the stage, demonstrates how the greatest journey in life is often the most difficult.
Theatre should be for everyone and this play is for every person who has a child screaming to find pure childlike joy.
This show leaves the The Pantages Theatre on March 12, however after a few days in Tempe, AZ, the show will return to Southern California –
Costa Mesa, CA 03/21/17 – 04/02/17 at The Segerstrom Center for the Arts
San Diego, CA 04/04/17 – 04/09/17 San Diego Civic Center