Sunday, November 6, 2016

Finding Neverland @ Playhouse Square, 11/1-11/20/2016

Review by Laura Kennelly

It’s a mystery why Finding Neverland, now at the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square, didn’t win Broadway awards in 2015 (tho the cast got a few nominations). Maybe there are too many grownup grumps in NYC? But in Cleveland, the show, temporarily dubbed “Finding Believeland” for the first two days (hummm, seems to have been a ball game on those two nights) found a fit audience. We all clapped for Tinker Bell and saved her too! Who wants to grow up anyway?

For a smashingly good start, the colorful “Welcome to London,” opens the show and highlights happy chaos as it melds Peter Pan’s fantasy world with the story’s “real” people. Suddenly, an  authoritative voice tells the cast to “Stop” because it’s too early in the story. And, just  like that the pirates and the mermaid and the Lost Boys dash offstage.

The Finding Neverland story (book by James Graham with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy) really begins when the already famous British playwright J. M. Barrie meets a lively family of four boys, their loveable dog, and their mother in Kensington Park. Barrie’s been having creative difficulties--he keeps writing the same romance over and over--but once he meets the Llewelyn Davies family , he’s inspired to create something new--the world inhabited by Peter Pan.

Kevin Kern (as J. M. Barrie) creates a believable portrait of the charming, vulnerable author who sells the idea of a children’s fantasy for grownups to theatre manager Charles Frohman (the naturally stressed-out Tom Hewitt). Hewitt also has the delicious scenery-chewing role of Captain James Hook. [Interesting note: Barrie’s first name is James--coincidence? I think not.]

As the boy’s mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the golden-throated Christine Dwyer sings and dances her way into our hearts (and made me cry in her wonderful final scene). Joanna Glushak (as the boys’ initially snobby grandmother), Crystal Kellogg (the unhappy Mary Barrie), Lord Cannan (the stuffy Noah Plomgren, whose hairpiece got broad laughs), and the rest of the first-rate ensemble threw themselves into being boys (lost and otherwise), servants, pirates, Indians--anything the story needed--with evident enthusiasm.

In this extravagant production, Director Diane Paulus sparks enchantment and childhood memories (at least for this former Amazon pirate) of pixie dust and fantasy worlds. The set, beautifully designed by Scott Pask, and the choreography by Mia Michaels remind us why Broadway can also be a Neverland full of wonder.

Even the curtain calls were fun. Kern donned a Cleveland Indians shirt and others sported other Tribe paraphernalia. Obviously, that went over big.

Bottom Line: In other words: I admit I’m already a fan of musicals, but this one is truly a song and dance filled joy. If you want to hook a child on the charms of theatre, this might be the perfect show. (Make them read Peter Pan first.) Laughs, tears, dogs, kids, handsome and beautiful cast, a touching and inspiring story--Neverland has it all.

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