I have always been a fan of plays and musicals since my childhood, and being involved in several shows throughout my junior high and high school years have instilled in me a permanent love of theater. When I was presented the opportunity to see "Finding Neverland" at the Wharton Center for the Performing Arts, I jumped.
Peter Pan was one of my top 5 favorite movies/stories growing up and although I never got to see that show performed, I knew going into Finding Neverland that it would be a cool twist on such a well-known story. My expectations were not only met, but well exceeded.
The musical, which is based in the Academy Award®-winning film of the same name, takes place in London and follows playwright J.M. Barrie as he summons the courage to become the writer – and the man – he yearns to be. He struggles to find inspiration for a new show until he meets a beautiful widow named Sylvia and her four young sons: Jack, George, Michael and Peter.
Now I want to take a moment here to talk about these four boys. Not only were they arguably the cutest kids ever- their acting skills were incredible. It was easy to forget they were everyday kids until I noticed them 'dabbing' after curtain call. They meshed extremely well together and there was a song they performed just the four of them with a ukulele, washboard, and drums. It was amazing. The youngest of the bunch is adorable and I was blown away with his acting.
Billy Harrigan Tighe and Lael Van Keuren who star as J.M. Barrie and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies both play their parts to a T. Sylvia being a mother of four boys who lost her husband a year prior, and J.M. Barrie a humble playwright looking for inspiration and himself. It is a bit strange that he spends so much time with the family, considering he has a wife of his own, but the way he respects Sylvia and interacts with the boys is very heartfelt. He even gets through to Peter, who stopped playing with his brothers and brings the light of childhood fun back to his life.
The humor in this show is great. There are some things the younger members of the audience might not understand well, but there were a lot of laughs throughout the musical, mine included.
Captain Hook, who is actually Mr. Barrie's alter ego from his imagination, is usually played by John Davidson. However, on Tuesday evening Matthew Quinn assumed the role and, although I would have loved to have seen Davidson play the part, he was wonderful nonetheless. He had the theater filled with laughter countless times.
Apart from the acting, the stage logistics were incredible! There were so many times I thought to myself, "Wow, did they really do that?" The screen projections and multifunctional set pieces, allow us to imagine everything from pirate ships to Neverland itself. There's a scene towards the end of the show that you really have to see to believe.
Additionally, the orchestrations by Simon Hale were incredibly well done. The song "Stronger" performed just before intermission left me both baffled and excited going into the second act. The solo performances by both Barrie and Sylvia were beautiful; you could basically feel their emotions throughout the songs.
There were a couple moments that I particularly loved, the first being when a big fluffy dog walked on stage. Yes, a REAL live dog. He made appearances at other times throughout the show and towards the end when one of Mr. Barrie's actors was dressed as a pup himself, the dog licked his nose and sniffed his butt. Not sure if he was trained to do this, but nonetheless it was hilarious.
I loved the variety of talent in this show. Often times with musicals you find that they are either really song heavy or really dance heavy and although there were times where there was so much going on, I didn't know where to focus my attention, it was refreshing to see the characters do so many different things. Peter Pan and Wendy, played by Dee Tomasetta and Mary Kate Hartung, are both incredible dancers and since they didn't appear too often throughout the show, I always loved the moments when they danced around the stage.
Some might think of "Finding Neverland" as a "kid show" and while yes, it does appeal to all ages, I believe the emotions of the musical can be felt much more profoundly from an adult standpoint. There are themes such as death, single parenting and societal criticism that can't be understood as well by a child and after all, it is about learning to see the magic in life.
The emotions will hit you, the ending might break your heart, but if you're looking for a fun, family friendly, yet amazing show to see, "Finding Neverland" is your show.
For more information on Finding Neverland and to purchase tickets to the show at Wharton Center, click here.