“Second star on the right and straight on ’til morning…”
This quote brings me back to my childhood playing pirates, with my brothers, at Disneyland on Tom Sawyer’s Island. We crossed rickety wooden bridges, hid in dark tunnels, and had sword fights on every inch of the island. It was filled with laughter, mystery and adventure. I felt like a lost boy – a boy who would never grow up.
Finding Neverland follows the famous playwright, J.M. Barrie, and what inspired the amazing world of Peter Pan, Captain Hook, and the Lost Boys. At the center, it was inspired by a woman named Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four boys, George, Peter, Jack and Michael, after they met, coincidentally, in Kensington Gardens, London, at the turn of the century.
As I walked away from the theatre, I reminisced about my childhood adventures playing pirates. It reminded me (and the rest of the adults in the room) that “play” is not a four-letter word. The joy and magic the story brings to children in the audience is also beautiful — especially during Act 2 when they lit up the audience in the orchestra and asked us to clap if we believed in fairies!
There is so much emotional memory that each person brings to the story of Peter Pan, that it’s almost hard to walk away without having your “heart strings” pulled on. And yet, I also left wanting more…
The musical really started (for me, at least) when Sylvia (the uber-talented Christine Dwyer) sings “All That Matters” in the middle of Act 1. While I know the story is J.M. Barrie’s, I was actually more interested in Sylvia’s life. How was she coping from her husband’s premature death to sarcoma? Why did she refuse help from her mother, Mrs. du Maurier, with raising her four children? How was she dealing with her own illness (lung cancer)? I wanted to know more about how a widow in the early 1900’s in London was coping and living. Honestly, I wanted to see the story through her eyes.
After “All That Matters” the pacing of the script and the score felt much quicker. The first five songs didn’t feel justified (especially the opening number, “Welcome to London”), nor were interesting enough to connect me to the characters. There was a major re-tool of the beginning of Act 1 from Broadway to the National Tour. I would have loved to see the progression from A.R.T. (the regional try-out) to Broadway to National Tour to see the changes made by the creative team led by director, Diane Paulus.
The score, written by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, reminds me of sweeping pop songs from the late 1990’s (think of a mash-up of Celine Dion and early-Josh Groban but “broadway-ized”). I generally loved how accessible the melodies are and how emotionally connected the songs were to the story. I loved the folk feel in “Neverland” and the beautiful duet, “What You Mean to Me”, between Barrie & Sylvia. The hard drum beats in “Stronger” at the close of Act 1 was riveting!
The main highlight in Act 2 was with the four boys singing “We’re All Made of Stars”. The boys brought the house down singing:
We’re all made of stars
We’re all made of dreams
No matter who you are
You can do what you want
Go where you like
Be who you wanna be
One of the major misses was the choreography by So You Think You Can Dance! choreographer, Mia Michaels. I think this was a case of you’ll either love it or hate it. Unfortunately, I thought the latter. I wanted it to push the story forward, but it never felt like it was justified in reality — it was quirky, modern and sharp, and didn’t tell the same emotional journey of the rest of the story-telling.
I really loved the integration of technology, especially the projection design by Jon Driscoll. There was a moment near the end, designed by air sculptor, Daniel Wurtzel, that took my breath away. It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen on the stage.
Finding Neverland is definitely not a “perfect” musical and it borders, at points, on saccharine but I still loved it (mainly because of Act 2). It reminded me of how my three year-old son sees the world, and that was a special gift to me.
Bring your entire family, especially those adults who need to be reminded what’s it like to be a “lost boy” again and what it means to fly.
Buy tickets for Finding Neverland here.