Theater Review: ‘Finding Neverland’

The boy who would never grow up
May 12, 2015 Updated: May 18, 2015

NEW YORK—”Finding Neverland” promises more than it delivers, in spite of a number of gifted folk who participate. Perhaps the style of the production is too lavish for the delicate content.

In the story, playwright J.M. Barrie (Matthew Morrison) is under pressure from his producer, Charles Frohman (Kelsey Grammer), to write a new hit play. Current business is not good, and Frohman must have a hit in order to survive as a major producer.

(L–R) Sawyer Nunes, Alex Dreier, Laura Michelle Kelly, Aidan Gemme, Matthew Morrison, Christopher Paul Richards in
(L–R) Sawyer Nunes, Alex Dreier, Laura Michelle Kelly, Aidan Gemme, Matthew Morrison, and Christopher Paul Richards in “Finding Neverland.” (Carol Rosegg)

Barrie not only has this pressure to cope with, but things are not going smoothly on the homefront. His wife, socialist-type Mary Barrie (Teal Wicks), does not supply the kind of warmth a creative person needs to help him produce his best work.

To escape from pressures at home, Barrie finds relaxation in Kensington Gardens, where quite by chance he runs into a family of four young brothers. Their mother is the lovely Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly).

Most effective are those numbers performed by Matthew Morrison and Laura Michelle Kelly.
All family members are saddened by the recent death of their husband/father, particularly young Peter (Aidan Gemme at the performance I saw). Peter is sensitive and creative, and Barrie takes a particular interest in this lad.

The loneliness of the two adults and their mutual need draw them together. Back at Barrie’s home, Mary, having become aware of her husband’s new attachment, leaves him.

It’s clear to everyone that Barrie tremendously enjoys the company of the Davies family, but tongues wag regarding the relationship of this married man with a recently made widow.

Matthew Morrison as J.M. Barrie (center) and Kelsey Grammer as Captain Hook with his band of pirates. (Carol Rosegg)
Matthew Morrison as J.M. Barrie (center) and Kelsey Grammer as Captain Hook with his band of pirates. (Carol Rosegg)

Another fly in the ointment is Sylvia’s domineering mother, Mrs. du Maurier (well played by Carolee Carmello). But the final blow comes when Sylvia succumbs to illness and dies.

But before this tragic event takes place, Barrie has had a chance to enjoy foolish games and fantasies with his young friends. This ultimately leads to his creating the universally loved character of Peter Pan, the boy who would not grow up, and who flies—in the person of attractive performer Melanie Moore, who soars above the stage at various times.

This being a musical, a slew of numbers are dotted throughout (music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy). Most effective are those performed by Matthew Morrison and Laura Michelle Kelly.

Morrison has a strong presence and fine singing voice, which shines in his renditions of “If the World Turned Upside Down” and his duet with Sylvia, “What You Mean to Me.”

J.M. Barrie (Matthew Morrison) and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly) in a touching scene from the musical
J.M. Barrie (Matthew Morrison) and  (Laura Michelle Kelly) in a touching scene from the musical “Finding Neverland.” (Carol Rosegg)

Kelsey Grammer offers a fine version of Captain Hook, accompanied by a band of pirates, as they perform “Live by the Hook.”

Talented director Diane Paulus, a triple Tony Award winner (“Pippin,” “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess,” “Hair”), is perhaps daunted by a less than remarkable entity to work with.

Choreography by Mia Michaels is at times oddly jerky with no apparent motivation.

Book is by James Graham is based on the Miramax motion picture written by David Magee and the play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee.

‘Finding Neverland’
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 W. 46th St.
Tickets: 800-982-2787 or Ticketmaster.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Closes: Open Run

Diana Barth publishes New Millennium. She may be contacted at diabarth@juno.com.

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