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Finding Neverland
Book by James Graham, Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Directed by Diane Paulus
Choreographed by Mia Michaels
The Fox Theatre
December 6, 2016

Cast of Finding Neverland Photo by Carol Rosegg Finding Neverland National Tour

Cast of Finding Neverland
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Finding Neverland National Tour

Finding Neverland the musical didn’t last long on Broadway, but now it’s on tour, stopping here in St. Louis at the Fox Theatre. It’s a big, bold and sparkly kind of musical with dazzling special effects and an interesting if somewhat cheesy story. Well cast and spectacularly staged, it’s overall impression is an enchanting one.

Inspired by the film of the same name, Finding Neverland tells the story of Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie (Kevin Kern), who is most famous nowadays for having written the classic Peter Pan. This musical is a condensed, partially fictionalized portrayal of Barrie’s relationship with the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Christine Dwyer) and her sons Peter (played on opening night by Ben Krieger), George (Finn Faulconer), Jack (Mitchell Wray), and Michael (Jordan Cole).  As the show portrays the situation, producer Charles Frohman (Tom Hewitt) has been insisting that the discouraged Barrie write a new play for his company to produce as soon as possible, and Barrie’s newfound friendship with Sylvia and the boys eventually inspires him to write Peter Pan.  The process of writing and producing the play is juxtaposed with Barrie’s relationship with Sylvia and her sons, especially Peter, who Barrie encourages to write his own stories.  While the “love story” element here is somewhat overblown, it’s a fun show. The exploration of the creative process is interesting, and the character of Captain Hook (also Hewitt) serving as something of an antagonistic “muse” for Barrie is cleverly portrayed.  The score is pretty but not always particularly memorable.

What is memorable is the staging and the dazzling effects that enhance the story and add to the wondrous, magical atmosphere, especially in fantasy sequences. Scott Pask’s set is detailed and versatlie, transporting the audience to Turn of the 20th Century London as well as to Neverland itself. There are also terrific costumes from the authentic to the whimsical designed by Suttirat Anne Larlab, spectacular lighting by Kenneth Posner, projections by Jon Driscoll, illusions by Paul Kleve and fantastic flying effects by Production Resource Group. Barrie’s world–both real and imaginary–is incredibly well realized here. There’s also some great, inventive choreography by Mia Michaels, especially in the ensemble numbers.

The ensemble is particularly strong here, playing London townspeople, actors in the play, and more as the story requires. It’s a large cast, filling the stage at the Fox well. The leads are top-notch as well, particularly Kern as the imaginative, determined Barrie, Dwyer in great voice as Sylvia, and Hewitt in an amusing dual role as the persistent producer Charles and as the wily Captain Hook of Barrie’s imagination. The child performers are also very well cast, with Krieger a particular stand-out as the initially disillusioned but increasingly inquisitive and imaginative Peter. There’s also good supporting work by Joanna Glushak as Sylvia’s mother, Mrs. Du Maurier, Crystal Kellogg as Barrie’s wife Mary, and Corey Rives as the energetic butler, Albert.  The whole cast is excellent, elevating the occasionally cliched script with a real sense of wonder and enchantment. The Peter Pan rehearsal and performance sections are particularly impressive.

This isn’t a perfect musical. The “love story” seemed contrived, and there are a few good songs but a few too many reprises. Still, it’s an extremely well-cast, great looking production that should appeal to audiences of all ages. It’s a flight of fancy that, for the most part, succeeds.

Kevin Kern, Tom Hewitt Photo by Carol Rosegg Finding Neverland National Tour

Kevin Kern, Tom Hewitt
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Finding Neverland National Tour

The National Tour of Finding Neverland is playing at the Fox Theatre until December 18, 2016.

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