Review by Tom Millward
25 June 2015
I think it's fair to say that Broadway's critics and Tony voters have been less than kind to Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein's first foray into the world of musical theatre. Finding Neverland failed to get a single nod at this year's Tony Awards ceremony, but thankfully that hasn't stopped audiences flocking to the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre to experience what I believe is one of the most charmingly enchanted evenings out on Broadway.
I was already a fan of the divine Laura Michelle Kelly's stage work in London (and also as she reprised her Olivier Award-winning role of Mary Poppins on Broadway), and I was eager to witness both Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer's stage performances (having only seen their TV work until now). They are all perfectly cast in the musical and Morrison does a good job of mastering a perhaps tricky, soft Scottish accent as J.M. Barrie. True that Jeremy Jordan would have made just as good a leading man in the show, but Morrison is certainly no weaker substitution.
The musical's strengths lie in the creative explorations of Barrie's imagination on stage, as well as the unashamedly button-pushing musical numbers, written by UK singer-songwriter sensation Gary Barlow and partner Eliot Kennedy. A handful of the songs, including the gorgeous title track and the motivating anthem "Stronger," sound like they are lifted straight off a Take That studio album, and I'm a firm believer that musical theatre should be an outlet for all types of musical genres. Why should a healthy dose of Britpop be any different?
Whether it's conjuring up a pirate ship in a stormy sea or swimming in the park with mermaids, the theatre is the perfect device for Finding Neverland, which dwells so dreamily between the real world and the imagination. The scene which is embedded in my musical soul for the rest of my days comes towards the end of the musical, where Laura Michelle Kelly's character Sylvia Llewelyn Davies is centre stage surrounded by wind machines and engulfed in glitter. It's such a simple effect that works so beautifully and so heart-breakingly on stage. Bravo!
Kelly is again a delight to behold and a special mention goes out to the Llewelyn Davies children too (portrayed by Aidan Gemme, Christopher Paul Richards, Sawyer Nunes, and Alex Dreier, the evening I attended) for bringing quintessentially British boyhood banter alive so effectively. Children and adults alike in the audience lap up the Peter Pan references such as ominous Hook-shaped shadows caused by umbrella handles or the twinkling spotlight otherwise known as Tinkerbell, and it's compelling to discover who the real Peter Pan actually is... Is it Peter Llewelyn Davies or is it the child in J.M. Barrie himself?
Finally this may be one Broadway musical that bucks the trend of Tony Award nominations dictating what should enjoy longevity on Broadway and what should close within weeks. I believe in Neverland!
"It heightens the screenplay's sentimentality, tidy psychologizing and life-affirming messages by thickening their syrup and corn quotients in ways presumably deemed palatable to theatergoing children and their parents."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Matthew Morrison doesn't push. His ever-genuine and impressively easygoing star turn as writer J.M. Barrie in 'Finding Neverland' is what makes his return to Broadway after six seasons of 'Glee' cast such an irresistible spell."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Peter Pan taught others to free themselves and fly. For most of its running time, 'Finding Neverland' remains stuck to the ground."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Awkward, garish and manipulative musical"
David Cote for Time Out New York
"It's a celebration of imagination that labors hard for a consistent tone and often leaves you feeling manipulated."
Mark Kennedy for The Associated Press
"Bombastic and exhausting, the show confuses childishness with an affinity for the child inside."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"Despite the technical marvels that director Diane Paulus brings to producer Harvey Weinstein's beloved obsession, this ambitious version of the 2004 Miramax movie (itself based on a play by Alan Knee) remains stubbornly earthbound."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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