(photo by Jeremy Daniel)
Everyone knows Peter Pan. The lost boys. Wendy. Captain Hook. Tinkerbell. But do you know why those characters exist? Finding Neverland tells us the real-life story of author J.M. Barrie and his relationship with the Llewelyn Davies boys. Through playtime in London’s Kensington Gardens and encouraging make-believe games, the boys became the inspiration for Barrie’s most beloved tale, Peter Pan.
Finding Neverland is nothing short of enchanting, based on 2004’s Academy Award-winning movie from screenwriter David Magee and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee. The musical’s original music and lyrics are by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy; book by James Graham. J.M. Barrie is played quite charmingly by Billy Harrigan Tighe (The Book of Mormon, Pippin), with his real-life wife Kristine Reese portraying Mary Barrie (more on Reese can be found in our recent interview). A group of very talented young lads play (and alternate throughout the run) the roles of Peter, George, Michael, and Jack. Lael Van Keuren as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and John Davidson as Captain Hook/Charles Frohman are incredible in their roles. It’s hard to pinpoint a breakout star here, as everyone was professional, committed, and had chemistry on stage with the other performers. This cast is very cohesive and it comes across well throughout the show.
The use of effects and props are stunning, with tight choreography. The scene featuring the song “Play” is a very good example of this, as Barrie’s cast of characters at his play within a play suddenly realize how good it feels to let go of real life and become a kid again. It’s a tossup between this number and the chilling “Circus of Your Mind” as to what best portrays the hard work every member of this cast and crew put forth to bring the story to the stage. The last scenes create beautiful visuals; you may even leave with a few tears in your eyes. Or maybe it was just pixie dust?
Finding Neverland, much like the story of Peter Pan himself, encourages everyone to always keep a hold of the child within them. It’s so easy to get caught up in the boring business of being an adult, and we should never forget that sense of wonderment and imagination that rarely comes out to play anymore. This show will inspire you to have fun, to believe in the things you can’t always see, and to never take anything so seriously.
If your family is visiting from out of town for Thanksgiving, bring them to Finding Neverland. It’s a breath of fresh air that we all really need right now.
Tickets are available via the Kimmel Center’s website.