By Erika Brown Thomas
The story of Peter Pan continues to prove its irresistible pull: whenever anything Neverland-related comes out, we read it, watch it, listen to it, LOVE it.
The combination of real life themes interwoven with adventure, magic and friendship creates a narrative that never fails to appeal to children in awe and adults who love finding their inner Neverland!
Broadway in Chicago’s Finding Neverland is a poignant, power-filled, beautiful show – Do. Not. Miss it!
Finding Neverland is a story within a story as well as a musical based on a movie based on a book, detailing the life events that led J.M. Barrie to create the story of Peter Pan. A complete synopsis, may be read here and a production history of the musical is here.
Diane Paulus is a master director (as if her Tony Award and nominations didn’t speak loudly enough). Her sensitive staging marks her as a true artist – the seamless transitions and carefully crafted scenes integrate real life and imagination with such clarity that it seems easy.
The music, written by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, is exciting, energetic and melodic (something Broadway audiences crave). The songs and musical themes are memorable and easily taken home and hummed once the performance has ended.
Pan as defined by Merriam-Webster: 1) all: completely 2) a) involving all of a (specified) group or region b) advocating or involving union of a (specified) group 3) whole: general. Kevin Kern (J.M. Barrie) is Pan for Finding Neverland. His vocals are incredible, his acting supreme and the chemistry he supplies for his character is unmatched.
Christine Dwyer is exquisite in her portrayal of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, a widowed mother of four boys. Her heartfelt rendition of “All That Matters” in Act 1 sets the stage for high emotions to come.
The Llewelyn Davies children are played by a host of talented boys, Jordan Cole, Finn Faulconer, Tyler Patrick Hennessy, Ben Krieger, Eli Tokash and Mitchell Wray. No matter what combination of actors, the performance will be top-notch. Their familiarity with the stage and each other exudes confidence and fun while also managing to harness the very real shades of grief.
Tom Hewitt (Charles Frohman/Captain James Hook) provides true comedic relief both as an antagonistic financier and imaginary, over the top pirate. His ability to transform from the penny-pinching, elderly play producer to the strapping and now infamous pirate, showcases his acting prowess.
The incredible imagination of the production team brings so many unforgettable moments to life. An afternoon in the park turns into an amazing theatrical experience as red balloons, dancing bears and ships entertain. An average night of getting four children to bed brings tears as a slow motion sequence of jumping on the bed and incredible lighting by Kenneth Posner serve as the inspiration for the memorable nursery scenes of any Peter Pan production from the past. A stuffy dinner party morphs into a wildly creative and hilarious scene with characters popping in and out of each other’s imagination. Fairy dust, lighting, wind and beautiful costume and scenic design (Scott Pask and Suttirat Larlarb) make for the most jaw-dropping, tear-jerking death scene. Each ensuing moment supersedes the previous with its ingenuity and true understanding of the creative force at work.
Make Finding Neverland a priority to see early in this Holiday season – the joy and pent-up heart pangs that it releases will stay in your mind’s eye for years to come.
Broadway in Chicago presents “Finding Neverland” through December 4 at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph Street, Chicago. More information and tickets ($27 – $123) are available here.