Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The musical is a fairly simple story that depicts how Barrie created his play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. The story begins when Barrie, who is up against a deadline to submit his latest play to his producer, encounters the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four sons in Kensington Park one day. When he sees the boys using their imagination to play, he uses that as the motivation to create what would become his most enduring and well-known creation. He even names the famous boy who refuses to grow up after one of Llewelyn Davies' sons.
While a few factual elements have been fictionalized, including that Llewelyn Davies wasn't yet a widow at the time she met Barrie, the story does add some interesting intrigue in how the married Barrie's close relationship with Llewelyn Davies raises eyebrows. It is also interesting to see how Barrie's idea to create a show aimed for children, with a character who flies, doesn't quite fit with Barrie's skeptical producer Charles Frohman.
James Graham's script works well to depict the creation of "Peter Pan" and it interweaves the use of imagination and the evolution of so many well-known characters and story elements from Barrie's creation into the plot through imaginative creative aspects incredibly well. However, the plot is fairly basic, with minimal drama, and the score by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, which uses power ballads to draw us into the story, isn't at all reminiscent of the period of the story, plus several songs are unmemorable.
Mia Walker recreates Diane Paulus's original direction for this non-Equity tour and it works best for the sequences centered around the use of imagination and those that touch upon the warm relationship between Barrie and Llewelyn Davies' boys, along with the book's realistic and sensitive depiction of loss. There is also a wonderfully directed sequence in which the opening night of Barrie's play begins in the theatre and then transforms into the play being acted out in the four brothers' bedroom.
The leads, including Mark Bacon as Barrie and Josephine Florence Cooper as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, deliver performances that are sensitive and warm and both have beautiful singing voices that excel on their songs. Kirk Lawrence is humorous, commanding and charming as Frohman (and Barrie's evil alter ego, Captain Hook). The boys who alternate playing Sylvia's children (Brycton Archer, Ashton Heathcoat, Dylan Jacob Loraw, Jack Packer and Nicholas Reed) all deliver honest and beautiful portrayals, including a moving performance of the song "We Are Made of Stars," which focuses on all of the possibilities in the world. As the show's main antagonist, Desiree Dillon portrays Sylvia's disapproving mother realistically. It's nice to see how Graham's script naturally depicts how both Sylvia's mother and Frohman grow by the end of the show.
The projections by Jon Driscoll tie perfectly into the imaginative tone of the show with cinematic, animated designs that whisk us from location to location. Suttirat Anne Larlarb'a costume designs beautifully evoke the period of the piece as well as the various classes of individuals in the show. There is also a lovely effect by Daniel Wurtzel that features a combination of air and glitter with impactful and moving results.
While Finding Neverland isn't a perfect musical, it is charming and heartwarming and beautifully depicts how an adult can grow by seeing the sense of awe, joy and imagination in a young person's eyes. The current touring production has a talented cast who help smooth over the few rough elements in the script and the couple of just average songs, resulting in a fun and heartwarming show that is sure to charm even the most cynical of audience members.
Finding Neverland runs through January 12, 2020, at the Orpheum Theatre, 203 W Adams Street, Phoenix AZ. For information on this show and upcoming shows at the Orpheum, visitwww.americantheatreguild.com/phoenix/.
Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy