A visually dazzling musicalization of the '04 film that will have you clapping your hands with belief
At one point in the much-hyped Finding Neverland—now playing at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre—Peter Pan playwright J.M. Barrie (Glee’s Matthew Morrison) is worried he’s seen a ghost in the theater. The one that’s spooked him has a mane of black hair, pirate garb, and a hook for a hand. But there’s another spirit looming large in the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre who’s tough to shake: He of the High Seas of Tribeca, Captain Harvey Weinstein.
It’s near impossible to ignore what’s been reported about Weinstein’s involvement (whose company also produced the Oscar-nominated movie on which this musical is based) while watching the current production. How he spent millions on a production in London, which he all but entirely chucked before moving ahead with a Broadway version. How he was personally involved in creative decisions, big and small. How his wife helped him make casting choices, including Kelsey Grammer as impresario Charles Frohman/Captain Hook.
But liking Finding Neverland means pushing out of your mind what you know about the icky behind the scenes drama, which was reported to include abruptly ditched actors and composers, and some quite theatrical backstage battles. That–mercifully–can be done, thanks to director Diane Paulus (Pippin), who beautifully directs this tale of Barrie finding the subject of his now-legendary play after falling in love with widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (the magical-voiced Laura Michelle Kelly) and her four sons: Jack, George, Michael, and, yes, Peter. (The child actors rotate in the production, though I’m grateful to have seen Christopher Paul Richards, Sawyer Nunes, Alex Dreier, and the especially soulful Aidan Gemme.)
While a few of Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy’s songs lack heft (save for the lilting “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground”), choreographer Mia Michaels (yes, the same one of So You Think You Can Dance fame) compensates with playful moves. And if there are a few tourist-friendly groaners (“Do they say ‘Cheers’ where you’re from, Charles?” one troupe member asks Grammer’s Frohman), they are at least delivered with wit by the extraordinary supporting cast. Morrison, who left the stage for Glee’s McKinley High, seems to relish every line (“Boys should never be made to go to bed. They always wake up one day older.”), as does Grammer, who plays cranky better than most. (“I don’t have a child inside me; I have an ulcer.”)
But the moments of pixie-dusted perfection come from Paulus’ mind—especially one visually breathtaking moment of swirling, sparkled sadness. When my seven year-old companion (yes, families–this one’s kid-friendly) asked upon leaving the matinee, “Can we go back tonight?” I thought of one of Sylvia’s lines: “You know children. They don’t mince their words.” B+