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A CurtainUp Review
Finding Neverland

Production Notes
Musical Numbers
A Brief History of Peter Pan

peter and wendy
"When are you going to grow up?"—Mary Barrie
"Never"— Barrie

Finding Neverland
Matthew Morrison, Kelsey Grammer, and the cast.
J. M. Barrie's story of the never aging, motherless boy who transports the earthbound Darling children to Neverland has a special place in my memory book because it's the first play I ever saw. The awe and magic of that first encounter when I was six has made all things Peter Pan irresistible.

That must-see factor applies to straight play or musical adaptations — whether as books, plays or movies — that focus on Peter Pan's creator and how this magical story came about.

That brings us to movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who has followed up the Finding Neverland movie, with his first venture into the musical theater world. Weinstein and his large cadre of co-producers, are obviously aiming to have their show join Wicked, another fictional how-it-came-about musical about an iconic story. Judging from the house packed with school children and parents accompanied by six and up youngsters, it would seem the show is indeed hitting its target despite the obvious pandering to ticket selling more than genuine enchantment.

The anything for a box office hit story telling and casting hardly matched my magical first Peter Pan outing — an experience that took me right into the Darling children's bedroom and become part of their fantasy world without the distraction of an adult-geared love story and loud music that does little to evoke the Edwardian era.

Unlike the musical's Charles Frohman, Barrie's deep pockets producer who ultimately succumbs to his inner child, Weinstein and company have remained firmly committed to pragmatically pushing every sure-fire hit-making button.

All that button pushing has paid off with a production likely to be critic proof; perhaps not for ten years. but for a decent run. It takes full advantage of the familiarity rooted in many and varied Peter Pan productions, the Oscar-winning movie with Johnny Depp, and the star casting. It also manages to deliver its own magic courtesy of director Diane Paulus who has used her own pixieish vision to create some magical moments.

The result is a show with plenty of crowd-pleasing assets: Kelsey Grammer for fans of Cheers and Frasier to play both producer Frohman and Captain Hook with scene stealing panache. . . Matthew Morrison a handsome and wonderful singer to charm (and charm he does!) teen-aged Glee fans . . . the lovely and vocally fine Laura Michelle Kelly as the young widow who with her children inspired Barrie (and here also serves as the love interest). All this, plus those adorable children (a talented alternating ensemble of boys), a real dog and Tinker Bell.

Diane Paulus clearly know how to tap into all these assets. No sooner than the house lights dim than a tiny light dances around the curtain and theater ceiling to elicit the spirit of Tinker Bell — along with an instinctive and enthusiastic round of applause from the audience.

Song writers Gary Barlow & Eliot Kennedy aren't going to revolutionize musical theaters with their serviceable score. James Graham's libretto follows the film up to a point but in keeping with musical tradition turns Barrie's relationship with the Davis family more of a love story, and at the same time eliminating unsavory implications about him and the boys.

The book tends to work too hard to blend family friendly, uplift dialogue with sly referential business like a British character asking Cheers veteran Kelsey Grammer's American producer whether they say "cheers" where he comes from. Graham also spends too much time on scenes with the acting company discussing and preparing for the premiere of Peter Pan. Losing some of this rather boring business could easily cut the running time by ten or fifteen minutes.

Paulus and choreographer Mia Michaels do provide some terrifically entertaining numbers. "Play" delightfully introduces a bunch of nursery rhymes is lots of fun. It's evidently a case of Paulus waving her own fairy wand). Still, the overall tone of this production has a more manufactured, less emotionally valid feel than the film version.

Scott Pask has brought his own magician's skills to design attractive scenery, enhanced by Jon Driscoll's projections, Paul Kieve's illusions and Kenneth Posner's lighting. The flying as staged by ZFX, though inventive seemed to borrow from the way War Horse handled its puppet horses. The entire cast is handsomely outfitted (by Suttirat Anne Larlarb).

It's too bad that Carolee Carmello has a relatively minor role and gets only a couple of opportunities to let the audience appreciate her superb vocals. But then even the well-sung ballads for Morrison and Kelly are topped by Kelsey Grammer who gets the best lines and lyrics. At the performance I attended it was Grammer's entrance that set off show-stopping applause. Cheers indeed for TV generated casting.

For some background on Peter Pan's real history, click here.

Production Notes
Finding Neverland
Book by James Graham
Based on the Miramax motion picture by David Magee and the play The Man who was Peter Pan by Alan Knee
Music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Directed by Diane Paulus

Choreography by Mia Michaels
Cast: Matthew Morrison (J. M. Barrie), Kelsey Grammer (Charles Frohman/Capt. James Hook), Laura Michelle Kelly (Sylvia Llewelyn Davies), Carolee Carmello (Mrs. Du Maurier), Teal Wicks (Mary Barrie), and Alex Dreier, Aidan Gemme, Jackson Demott Hill, Noah Hinsdale, Sawyer Nunes, Christopher Paul Richards, Hayden Signoretti (the Llewelyn Davies Children) and Melanie Moore (Peter Pan).
Scenery: Scott Pask
Costumes: Suttirat Larlarb
Lighting: Kenneth Posner
Sound: Jonathan Deans
Projections: Jon Driscoll
Music director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Music supervision and dance and incidental music arrangements: David Chase
Orchestrations: Simon Hale
Hair and makeup: Richard Mawbey
Illusions: Paul Kieve
Air sculptor: Daniel Wurtzel
Flying effects by ZFX, Inc. and Production Resource Group
Vocal design: AnnMarie Milazzo
Music coordinator: Howard Joines; Stage Manager: C. Randall White
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre 205 West 46th Street
From 3/15/15; opening 4/15/15; open-ended--with a closing notice posted after the 2016 Tony nominations were announced: closing 8/21/16-- but with London production and American tour scheduled. Tuesday and Thursday @7:30pm; Wednesday @2 and 7:30pm; Friday @8pm; Saturday @2 and 8pm; Sunday @3pm
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 22nd press matinee
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • "If the World Turned Upside Down" / J.M. Barrie (Matthew Morrison)
  • All of London Is Here Tonight" -- Charles Frohman (Kelsey Grammer), Mary Barrie (Teal Wicks), J.M. Barrie and Company
  • The Pirates of Kensington"/ George Llewelyn Davies, Jack Llewelyn Davies and Michael Llewelyn Davies*
  • Believe"-- J.M. Barrie, Peter Llewelyn Davies, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly), George Llewelyn Davies, Jack Llewelyn Davies, Michael Llewelyn Davies and Company
  • The Dinner Party" / Mary Barrie, Mrs. du Maurier (Carolee Carmello), Lord Cannan, Charles Frohman, J.M. Barrie, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, Boys and Servants
  • We Own the Night" /Peter Llewelyn Davies, J.M. Barrie, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, George Llewelyn Davies, Jack Llewelyn Davies, Michael Llewelyn Davies and Servants
  • All That Matters" / Sylvia Llewelyn Davies
  • The Pirates of Kensington" (Reprise) -- George Llewelyn Davies, Peter Llewelyn Davies, Jack Llewelyn Davies and Michael Llewelyn Davies
  • Sylvia's Lullaby" / Sylvia Llewelyn Davies
  • Neverland" -- J.M. Barrie and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies
  • Circus of Your Mind" / Charles Frohman, Mary Barrie, Mrs. du Maurier and Company
  • Live by the Hook" / Captain James Hook (Kelsey Grammer) and Pirates
  • Stronger" / J.M. Barrie, Captain James Hook and Pirates
Act Two
  • The World Is Upside Down" / J.M. Barrie, Charles Frohman, Boys and Acting Troupe
  • What You Mean to Me" / J.M. Barrie and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies
  • Play" / Charles Frohman, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, J.M. Barrie and Acting Troupe
  • We're All Made of Stars" / George Llewelyn Davies, Peter Llewelyn Davies, Jack Llewelyn Davies and Michael Llewelyn Davies
  • When Your Feet Don't Touch the Ground" / J.M. Barrie and Peter Llewelyn Davies
  • Something About This Night" / Charles Frohman, Elliot, Acting Troupe, J.M. Barrie and Peter Llewelyn Davies
  • Neverland" (Reprise) / J.M. Barrie, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, Mrs. du Maurier, Boys and Company
  • Finale" / Mrs. du Maurier, J.M. Barrie, Boys and Company
A Brief History of Peter Pan
James M. Barrie's play grew out several chapters from his 1902 novel The Little White Bird. The character of Peter was inspired by the five sons of Barrie's friends Arthur and Sylvia Lleweyn Davies (Mr. and Mrs. Darling in the play). Barrie took the boys into his home after their parents died. As he explained in his dedication to the play "I made Peter Pan by rubbing the five of you violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame."

Of the five boys Peter was the one most closely linked with Barrie's fictional namesake, an identification which caused him considerable suffering. While he became a famous publisher, he died tragically — tossing himself under a subway train.

Barrie's work has been much studied and analized. Some students have seen Peter Pan it as a reflection of Barrie's inability to come to grips with the death of his brother at age twelve as well as his own sexual impotence.

Barrie envisioned an actor named Beerbohm Tree as Captain Hook but Tree thought Barrie had gone out of his mind to write four acts about fairies, children and Indians. The play opened in 1904, starring the famous actress Maude Adams in the title role. After it became a hit both in London and New York, Mr. Trees admitted that he'd probably always be known as the man who had refused Peter Pan. Ms. Adams' friend and producer, Charles Frohman, thinking he was about to go down on the Lusitania, called upon Peter Pan's words from the mermaid scene to see him through his final hour: "To die must be an awfully big adventure."

Many other well-known actresses, including Eva Le Gallienne, played Peter in ensuing revivals. The many critical praises collected through the years included this from a 1918 New York Times writeup: "Peter Pan is not children at play, but an old man smiling — and smiling a little sadly -- as he watches children at play."

The first musicalized Peter Pan came to New York in 1950 and ran for a record setting 321 performances. It starred Jean Arthur as Peter. Boris Karloff, like Paul Schoeffler, played both Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. The music and songs were by Leonard Bernstein. At one point during this run Jean Arthur's laryngitis stirred rumors that Shirley Temple would replace her.

In 1954 the musical version, composed by Mark Charlap and Jule Styne and with the Leigh-Comden-Green lyrics, opened at the Winter Garden. It starred Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard. Nine days after the show closed, it aired as a two hour NBC tonight special watched by an audience estimated at 70 million people. In 1979 Sandy Duncan flew into the Lunt-Fontanne for a 551 performance revival. Probably the most physical Peter Pan ever was Cathy Rigby, a two-time Olympic gymnast who starred in a 1998 Broadway revival at the Marriot Marquis

The name of the flying boy has become a synonym for the eternal spirit of youthful belief. In addition to the sure-fire hit musical productions, Barrie's rich characters have challenged directors to surprise audiences with a variety of treatments. Liza Lorwin of the Mabou Mines created a small but spectacularly imaginative Peter Pan in which a single narrator evoked the personalities of all the characters animated by seven puppeteers. An adorable puppet Peter never lost his first teeth to a deliciously quirky Captain Hook whose nemesis, the Crocodile, morphs right on stage from the cuddly dog-nursemaid, Nana. (
review ) An adaptation by John Caird and Trevor Nunn combined several versions of the basic franchise and having a Barrie-like narrator who also doubles as Tinker Bell. Review of a Berkshire production using that adaptation)

In recent years the Peter Pan back story has been added to what has become a hit-making revival and new adaptation franchise. Peter and The Star Catcher was an instant hit at New York Theatre Workshop, moved to Broadway where it was an even bigger hit. It's is still enjoying good business at New World StagBaes as the latest back story musical, based on the Miramax motion picture about Barrie has arrived on Broadway.
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