Finding Neverland at The Lunt-Fontanna
Finding Neverland never reaches that second star on the right. This assessment is not based on a comparison of the musical adaptation of the film of the same name with other versions of JM Barrie’s story; the new musical, with book by James Graham and lyrics and score by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, is lost in its ambition. Musical theater can be about anything as long as it is carefully structured. Here, sub-plots regarding writer’s block, adultery, fatherless children with a sick mother, life in the theatre, and the realization of the “big idea” are insensitively thrown together with the only lasting impression being confusion. The show is too long and there are three separate, manipulative finales trying to satisfy each plot line. Director Diane Paulus keeps things moving but there isn’t much to absorb, leaving her cast overcompensating to please.
Another major problem is the modernizing of the Edwardian era Barrie (Matthew Morrison) and the Llewelyn Davies brothers (Aidan Gemme, Christopher Paul Richards, Sawyer Nunes, Alex Dreier) that inspired Peter Pan. The orchestration relies too heavily on electronics. The juxtaposition is jarring, a distraction from the adventures in and outside Kensington Gardens. Scott Pask’s set designs incorporating video backdrops are not magical, resembling the nightmares he created for Pillowman. While choreographer Mia Michaels incorporates Peter’s (Melanie Moore) moves and poses from iconic performers, illustrations and statues to perfection, the rest of her dances match the relentless aggression of this particular interpretation.
Finding Neverland‘s two popular leading men are wasted. Morrison is totally committed to playing a writer whose relationship with the four boys was ambiguous to start with and is deliberately blurred onstage as well. Kelsey Grammer is properly stuffy as Barrie’s theatre manager/friend Charles Frohman. Finding Neverland only comes to life when he is Captain Hook. This would have been a really fun musical had Barrie interacted more with his creation strutting the stage in full pirate regalia.
With all the focus on the leading men, the boys’ mother Sylvia (Laura Michelle Kelly) is kept in the background. Another lost opportunity to use a talented singer/performer.
A compilation Finding Neverland’s songs, featuring John Legend, Rita Ora and others, is set for release. Clearly producer Harvey Weinstein was preoccupied with creating interest in the musical rather than with what ended up onstage. Perhaps a film version of this musical is planned and then the serious editing-down will take place. But it will be too late for theater-goers.
Finding Neverland is at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre from April 15 until September 10, for further information or to book visit here.