Sunday, April 26, 2015

Finding Neverland

There is this little thing on Broadway call politics. Yes, that ugly P word appears everywhere. In this case, a show was created years ago with one creative team, the producers brought in a completely new team, tried it out of town and then it came to Broadway (replacing some of the leads that upset some people). The fact said producer is also not a New York guy (but instead a film guy) gives people more reason to pull the "P card" and tear it down.

Those are some of the only reasons I can understand that critics and theater forums have been attacking Finding Neverland. If you read my blog, you know I see almost everything and I don't always like everything - but this show is beautiful, entrancing, magical, and allows everyone to be a child again for just a moment. Yes, a moment in time, Associated Press…hence the 'obsession with clocks' that annoyed you so with this show in your review. A show about a man that doesn't want to grow up (time) where time is running out on so many in this story. But I digress, I'm not going to spend time fighting the reviews that are already out there. 

If you are like me, you may have missed the 2004 film of Finding Neverland with Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet when it came out. I actually only saw the film this past year on cable and loved it. Sobbed at the beauty of it. It hit me on so many emotional levels. So I was looking forward to the musicalization of the film with trepidation as I read so much about the bumpy road to Broadway. Yet director Diane Paulus has given us a visually stunning show with her team of designers, intriguing choreography by Mia Michaels, a beautiful score by Gary Barlow, and an ensemble of actors that make  you want to believe in Tinkerbell once again. The score was first written by the team behind Grey Gardens, yet I loved the pop score Barlow has given us. Sure there are a few lyrics that are trite or not perfect rhymes, but I forgave that due to the fact he took me on a journey with his music. 

The story of J.M. Barrie and how he came to write the story of Peter Pan may be a little different from what history books say, but it makes for a moving evening of theater. Barrie's infatuation with the Llewelyn Davies boys and their caring and giving mother brings up themes of death and divorce, but isn't that real life? What is so wonderful is how in the midst of all of that 'realness', he teaches the boys and in turn the audience to stay young. To play. To let go. 

Matthew Morrison returns to the stage in the main role and has a wonderful voice and great presence. He counters the fantasy of the musical by grounding his Barrie in an understated performance, yet still effective. As Sylvia, the widowed mother of the boys, Laura Michelle Kelly deserves a Tony nomination. She is stunning, amazing voice, warm and you care deeply for her raising four boys and putting up with a pushy mother played perfectly by Carolee Carmello. Kelsey Grammer takes on the role of Barrie's producers and is everything an overbearing American working in London should be. Great comic relief as well and hams it up wonderfully as the Hook inside of Barrie's mind. 

There are amazing images displayed on stage in this show (and I don't mean the ever-changing sets and projections). I mean the use of shadows to create a dance. The way in which ensembles move and shift (it's not just dance, it's an exciting use of body not always seen in musicals). The building of a ship as Barrie grows stronger. And I won't even share the magic at the end that some critics gave away. There are some things we're meant to enjoy in the moment and not know they are coming. We escape into our childhood, we cheer for the hero, and we want to protect Peter. In this case, Peter Llewelyn Davies was played by Aidan Gemme and he grabbed my heart the same way Freddie Highmore had done in the film.

For those that say it's too sentimental and not a crowd-pleaser, I have to say that I haven't heard thunderous reactions from an audience like this (after every number) since seeing Wicked. And perhaps, like Wicked…this too will find its audience and stick around New York for a long time. Maybe if people believe and keep clapping long and loud enough, others will hear and take a trip to Neverland even if critics and politics attempt to keep people away.