Over-stage and over-produced stage version of the 2004 film willed with sentimental fluff.
After many changes, Finding Neverland, opened on Broadway in March 15, 2015 and closed on August 15, 2015 playing to 62% of capacity – losing much of the $20 million production cost. Upon closing, Finding Neverland played 33 previews and 565 performances. Executive produced Harvey Weinstein (the film producer of many hit films) makes his lead producer debut on Broadway with Finding Neverland. After only a four month run it is now touring the USA and is now playing at the Cadillac Palace Theatre until December 4, 2016. While there are some fine moments, especially with the four boys, Finding Neverland comes of as an over-staged and over-produced musical filled with unremarkable and unmemorable songs in a overlong show (2hours, 40 minutes) filled with sentimental fluff.
From the opening number, director Diane Paulus and choreographer Mia Michaels use wacky, jerky movement and dancing filled with jumps and other over-the-top movements that seemed extreme with the mediocre pop ballads and anthems it embellished. The campy tone filled with exaggerated persona sent mixed signals as to how this style served the story line?
Based on the Academy Award-winning film of the same name, this manic show follows playwright J.M. Barrie (the terrific Kevin Kern) as he summons the courage to become the writer – and the man – he yearns to be. Barrie finds the inspiration he’s been missing when he meets the beautiful widow Sylvia (Christine Dwyer) and her four young sons: Jack, George, Michael and Peter.
Delighted and inspired by the boys’ hilarious escapades, Barrie conjures the magical world of Neverland and writes a play unlike any the high-society London theatergoers have ever seen (its 1903). This is risky but his producer friend Charles Frohman (Tom Hewit) is desperate for a new play to save his enterprise.
Barrie’s mind believes that dreams are valid; that we can believe that we’ll never grow up; being a perpetual child is possible. That when you believe,you can fly. Thus he creates the beloved Peter Pan.
This musical is over written and over staged, with many songs become inflated into ‘showstoppers.’ The often silly, even campy tone of several scenes seem to contradict the fantasy scenes where Barrie plays with the four boys. If your going to fill your show with many showstoppers, best they be strong, memorable songs. Finding Neverland fails the Jerry Herman test: a show must leave you humming a tune when you leave the theatre – that it must have a few “take-home” songs that keep buzzing in your head. In Finding Neverland, there were no such tunes.
Finding Neverland does have some cute moments. The four boys and Barrie ‘play’ well in a cute way. Tom Hewit’s Captain Hook (Barrie’s alter-ego) hilariously haunts Barrie. The cast of ensemble actors hilariously spoofed classical players of the time on the London stage. Children will enjoy parts of this overly long production ( 2 hours, 40 minutes) but eventually it will wear out its welcome. Best to trim act one and make this musical a ‘toned-down’ to a 95 minute one act. Playing off Peter Pan isn’t enough.
At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph, Chicago, IL, call 800-775-2000, www.broadwayinchicago.com, tickets $27 – $123, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission, through December 4, 2016.