Show/Venue: Finding Neverland at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
Date: Wednesday, May 13th, 2015 @ 2pm
Starring: Matthew Morrison, Kelsey Grammer, Laura Michelle Kelly
Even though Finding Neverland was almost shut out of the Tony Award nominations, I was still excited to see the show. As a big fan of So You Think You Can Dance, I couldn’t wait to see Melanie Moore, (the season 8 winner) and the choreography of Mia Michaels in this production. And as any musical theatre nerd who loved Glee, I knew it would be great to see Matthew Morrison (Mr. Schuester) in the role of J.M. Barrie.
Having never seen the movie, I had brief knowledge about the plot of the show, but knew it revolved around J.M. Barrie and how he came up with the idea for Peter Pan. Also starring Kelsey Grammer (Fraiser, Cheers, La Cage Aux Follies) as Charles Frohman, Barrie’s director and investor, the show was loaded with star power and the theatre was filled with a mix of young and old for this Wednesday matinee.
Before Barrie wrote Peter Pan, he had just opened up a new play, which critics were not enthusiastic about, but no one would tell him the truth, (“If the World Turned Upside Down”). Barrie struggled with finding inspiration and substance for a new play and his overbearing, society wife, Mary (played brilliantly by Teal Wicks), wasn’t helping his situation. Mary was stressed that so many people from London were there to see Barrie’s work and he wasn’t paying them any attention, (“All of London Is Here Tonight”).
The next day, Barrie spends some time in a local park, where he meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (the spectacular Laura Michelle Kelly), a recent widow with four young sons. Barrie is inspired by their imaginations “Believe” and their stories of pirates, (“Pirates of Kensington”) and plays with the boys, who long for some sort of male role model, since their father had passed away, (“Believe”). Barrie finds a kindred spirit in Peter, who is an aspiring writer and is so taken by the family that he invites them to his home for a fancy dinner, in celebration of his latest work. This new arrives much to Mary’s chagrin and Barrie starts to develop feelings and a much frowned upon relationship with Sylvia, (“The Dinner Party” and the very entertaining “We Own the Night”).
After the party, Mary is deeply embarrassed by Barrie’s behavior, acting like a child and letting his imagination run free in front of so many important people. Barrie retreats from his wife and continues to find more inspiration in the imaginations of the Llewelyn Davies children. It’s after the party that Sylvia’s mother warns her about how the community is viewing her relationship with Mr. Barrie and how she must take care of herself, alluding to some sort of sickness that Sylvia has been dealing with, and leaving Sylvia alone outside of her home, (“Sylvia’s Lullaby,” a stunning ballad performed by Kelly).
Barrie and Sylvia start to talk about the concept of Neverland, where you can go and never have to grow up. In the next few scenes, Barrie’s imagination runs free, [in the “Circus of Your Mind” the ensemble lights up with an intricate dance number, reminiscent of a group SYTYCD routine by Mia Michaels in Season 4 (“The Dance,” https://youtu.be/djsTqP-0CdY)] as he starts to develop more new ideas for his next work. We then see Frohman challenging Barrie to come up with a new idea and that he needs new material for the actors right away; which leads to Frohman’s transformation into Captain Hook, (“Live by the Hook”).
In the stunning Act One closer (as performed on the 2015 Tony Awards), “Stronger” showcases Morrison’s singing and performance chops, something he rarely got to do live on Glee and shows why the producers may have cast him in this role over Jeremy Jordan (who played Barrie in the out of town tryout and will always be one of my favorite Broadway crushes). Here, Barrie, with a cast of pirates, shows how this struggle has made him stronger and how he will move forward in work and life, culminating in a large production number with a plank, a bench (one of Michaels’ favorite props) and several rope ladders. I left Act One with chills and couldn’t wait to see how “Peter Pan” was going to develop in Act Two.
At the start of Act Two, Frohman’s actors are struggling to understand Barrie’s work and what this story about the boy who never grew up really has to say. Barrie and Sylvia’s relationship continues to develop, (“What You Mean to Me”), as Barrie’s home life with Mary falls apart. In the meantime, Peter is working hard to write his own play to share with Barrie, with his siblings as the actors. Following their first performance, Sylvia’s condition worsens and Barrie has a heartfelt talk with Peter, (“When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground”), and what is going on with his mother.
Finally, Barrie’s Peter Pan is ready for its opening night, but Sylvia is in no condition to attend. The actors head off to Opening Night without her and the show is a huge success. There’s even a nod to Grammer’s television days as one of the actors asks him if they “say ‘cheers!’ where [he’s] from!” At the conclusion of the performance, the cast brings the show to Sylvia’s home, so she and her children can enjoy the work that their lives and imaginations have inspired. The energy is electric as everyone is celebrating this new work, but in the next moment, Sylvia passes.
In this tender moment, Kelly becomes engulfed in glitter and disappears, just one of those special, magical theatre moments that I can’t quite figure out, but that’s the beauty of live entertainment. Then the family reassembles after Sylvia’s passing, with Sylvia’s mother, Barrie and the boys. They will co-parent the boys and help them keep their imaginations just a lively as ever.
I left the theatre feeling rejuvenated about what you can accomplish in life with just a bit of imagination and immediately wanting to see the show again. There were so many great nuances in the production that left me baffled as to how this show didn’t receive a Best Musical nomination or even a nod for Matthew Morrison, (because Ken Wantanabe in The King & I was certainly not as powerful as Morrison), but I guess that’s up to the Tony Award voters to figure out.
I enjoyed watching Melanie Moore dance in the ensemble and bring Tinkerbell back to life, as much as I loved watching her dance with Marko Germar on SYTYCD. Her ability to draw in the audience and express emotion through her movement is always so impactful. In fact, she stopped into my work the day before I saw the show and I immediately went to help her, without fan-girling too much, and to talk about what a spectacular dancer I think she is.
The ensemble of this cast is also remarkable, as they play various roles of the Barrie household’s servant/wait staff (and have some great comedic moments), pirates in the imagination of Barrie, citizens of the city during “Believe” and even the acting troupe, each of them finds a unique was to relate to the audience, even in the overwhelming space of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, which I didn’t feel from the ensemble of Motown, which I also saw there.
I was really moved by the music, written by Gary Barlow, of the British boy band, Take That, and disappointed that the Original Broadway Cast album was almost overshadowed by the concept album, where the songs from the show were “reimagined” by a bunch of pop stars. Don’t get me wrong, I love some Nick Jonas, but his version of “Believe” and Kiesza’s version of “Stronger” can’t compare to Matthew Morrison’s version of either. At least I have the newly announced OBC recording to look forward to, so I can cry my eyes out when Laura Michelle Kelly sings.
1. If the World Turned Upside Down
2. All of London Is Here Tonight
3. The Pirates of Kensington
5. The Dinner Party
6. We Own the Night
7. All That Matters
8. The Pirates of Kensington (Reprise)
9. Sylvia’s Lullaby
11. Circus of Your Mind
12. Live by the Hook
1. The World Is Upside Down
2. What You Mean to Me
4. We’re All Made of Stars
5. When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground
6. Something About This Night
7. Neverland (Reprise)