Pictured: The Cast of the Touring Production of FINDING NEVERLAND. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.
By Marie Warner
FINDING NEVERLAND is the musical version of the 2004 film of the same name. It tells the story of playwright J.M. Barrie as he overcomes writer’s block by befriending the four Llewelyn Davies boys and their widowed mother. Playing with the boys reignites Barrie’s adventurous spirit and inspires him to write his greatest work, PETER PAN.
Lael Van Keuren is lovely as the grieving Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies and does a nice job with her big solo number, “All That Matters.” Will Ray as J.M. Barrie is adequate, and all the Llewelyn Davies boys are very engaging and charming. Dee Tomasetta is a physical powerhouse in her brief appearances as Peter Pan.
Unfortunately, FINDING NEVERLAND does not capture the poignancy and beauty of the film. The musical chooses to focus more on the production of PETER PAN than the grief and trauma its characters are grappling with. J.M. Barrie’s own loss is touched on only briefly and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies’ fatal illness is glossed over until the cliche bloody handkerchief appears in Act II.
Overall, the music is unremarkable. The only memorable song is “What You Mean to Me” and that’s only due to the fact that one part sounds remarkably similar to David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” The majority of the songs do nothing to actually move the plot forward. Composer/Lyricists Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy are part of UK pop group Take That and have worked with the Spice Girls and Celine Dion. In fact, the only way I would see this show again is if Ms. Dion played Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, as most of the music is quite suited to her.
The staging uses projections liberally and they are visually stunning. However, many of the imaginative fantasy sequences are created using a billowing sheet or some long wooden poles. The use of these objects generates enough interest that the high-tech elements felt incongruous.
Mia Michaels choreography is unexpected and enjoyable. Strong modern influences are seen throughout, which is refreshing to see in a show set in 1904. “Circus of Your Mind” is a particularly inventive number with ticking human clocks and furiously revolving doors.
Overall, a musical version of FINDING NEVERLAND is completely unnecessary to me. I found myself asking repeatedly, “Why does this exist?” None of the emotional moments landed. The only time I felt anything was in the confetti/glitter windstorm that signaled Sylvia’s death. It was an arresting piece of theater magic, but this musical adds nothing to the movie it is based on or to the Peter Pan legend in general. If you simply must visit some version of Neverland, you would be much better served by seeing the impossibly creative PETER AND THE STARCATCHER or by petitioning Cathy Rigby to fly again.