I honestly had no idea that the musical Finding Neverland was based on the movie Finding Neverland because I’m one of those heathens that never sits down to watch a movie. This did have the delightful side effect that, other than that it was about Peter Pan, I had no idea what to expect from the show.
Based on a true story, Finding Neverland brings us into the life of J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe), a playwright who’s running out of inspiration. He meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Lael Van Keuren) and her four young sons in the park and their imaginative play sparks memories of his youth; soon he is spending inordinate amounts of time with them. His wife leaves him and his relationship with Sylvia becomes the talk of the town. The boys’ games with pirates, fairies, and dreams of flying kick his imagination into high gear, and it’s not long before he has the idea for a play that might make him famous – or ruin his reputation forever.
As a whole, this is an absolutely stunning production. The technical aspects are among some of the best I’ve seen at Proctors (and possibly anywhere); the end of Act I and the end of the reprise of “Neverland” in Act II are so beautiful technically that I honestly gasped, and the use of light and shadow in “What You Mean to Me” is utterly inspired, especially in this production when you know how Barrie will use shadows in Peter Pan. The choreography is crisp and innovative, especially when the entire cast is involved, and the use of projections, which has been so common lately, seems fresh rather than stale.
Tighe is perfection as Barrie; he has a young Cary Elwes look and charisma to him, and had the audience in his back pocket within moments of the show beginning. Van Keuren is wonderful, as well, with a spritely stage presence and a soaring voice; the two of them have sparkling chemistry. John Davidson, as Tighe’s theater producer and Captain Hook, had the audience in stitches – it was only at the intermission I remembered him from That’s Incredible and The New Hollywood Squares when I was young, which was a kick.
My only slight nitpick would be with the music – none of the songs really stood out to me as stellar or even all that necessary. Although, of course, we wouldn’t have had the choreography I enjoyed so much had this been a play (and originally it was a play before it was adapted into a film and then a musical) and big showy musicals do better than plays do, usually … but it almost felt as if the songs were secondary to the action, which I enjoyed very much.
I wish this had a longer run, as I’d like more people to get a chance to see it – the magic of theater is really on display here, and work this innovative deserves the chance to be appreciated by as many people as possible.
“Finding Neverland”; Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady; through December 10; $90-$20; Runtime: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission; (518) 346-6204; http://www.proctors.org/