Last winter I had the pleasure of seeing the musical “Finding Neverland” in Chicago. The show held special interest for me because Mitchell Wray, an Indianapolis resident played the role of Jack. He would have joined the cast of the touring production, presented by Broadway in Indianapolis, when it lands in Indianapolis, October 17-22 at Clowes Memorial Hall at the Butler Arts Center, except for the fact that he left the show in June but more about that later.
Of course, when I saw the musical I was captivated by the story which follows the relationship of J. M. Barrie and the family that inspired Peter Pan or “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” one of the most famous stories of all time. When I saw the show, I was especially impressed with the performance of Christine Dwyer. She plays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, a young widow with four boys, who is befriended by Barrie and whose children serve as the inspiration for his story about the power of the imagination and never growing old.
Recently I spoke by phone with Dwyer while she was on the road with the tour.
How long have you been on the tour?
A little over a year.
How many cities?
We have been to so many cities, I don’t really know because there were so many cities where we spent a month, or two weeks or three and then other cities where we played for a week, so it is hard to say.
You must be exhausted.
Oh yes. It is always tiring doing eight shows a week. It is a grueling schedule, especially when you are traveling on your day off. We spend it pretty much all day travelling to another city and we open the next day so it is tiring and as you get older, a little bit more challenging. But you just figure out what you need to do in specific cities with different schedules and make every show just as good as the last one. We help each other out when we are on stage. When one person is tired and struggling, someone will pick up the slack. It becomes like any other job, really. You help your coworkers when they are tired or have something else going on. It can be stressful and I am tired but I am still having fun and having an enjoyable time with everybody.
Is every performance different?
Yes, and this show in particular because of the kids. We have six kids that rotate during the week in four separate roles. One afternoon I could have a separate set of kids than I do at night and that makes it much easier. It makes it easy to keep it fresh every performance because there are different people on stage to play around. Depending on the specific relationship to the kid, my performance will change so it is fun in that way.
Why does the show continue to resonate with audiences?
I think everybody wants a connection with their childhood and there are so many tellings of the Peter Pan story that people from all different generations have grown up with it. I think seeing our show and the way Peter Pan was created and the real-life people that inspired J.M. Barrie to write the story is interesting for people. People leave our show talking about the characters that lived in Barrie’s life and inspired him to write about the story. And they talk about Sylvia and the boys and their family dynamic and their relationship to J.M. Barrie. I think that is interesting to come into a show thinking you are going to see one thing and coming out completely moved for a whole other reason and a completely different story. For those people who saw the movie, they are going to recognize the story. But a lot of people don’t really know about it from what I gather when I talk to them stage door every night. But they still love it. People are really inspired and moved and are usually crying, in a good way, at the end. And it is just a beautiful sweet story about friendship and relationships and family that I think everyone could use a little of.
What do you hear from those who have lost parents themselves?
I hear mostly that it gives them a release from holding on to death being so negative and scary. I don’t want to give anything away but the way we talk about and experience loss in this show is a lovely way to look at it. It is a release into something more beautiful. I hear stories from a lot of people that it gives them a sense of calm and peace, dealing with the loss of a loved one which I think is just wonderful because it is hard for people suffering loss. I think any story that allows you to experience that in a beautiful way is important to people and that is what I have heard about the show from people who are struggling.
It must also give hope to those who have lost spouses too?
And yes, to also move on and to use the stories and what that person taught you, apply it in your own life, create relationships with other people and get to know people in a unique way. I think it is special and something really cool about our show.
You were recently in Japan, were you not?
Yes, we just came back a week ago, We were there for 3 weeks in Tokyo.
Did you see a lot of Tokyo?
Yes, we had a lot of shows, but it was the second time I had been to Tokyo so I was excited to go back and revisit some places that I had been before and see how much the city had changed in the last ten years. I went in 2007. It was so amazing and so interesting. The language barrier is very severe and it sounds nothing like ours and on top of that the alphabet is completely different so it is not if you can read anything and try make it out. What is truly interesting about being there is that while there are were so many conversations I had with people, we did not know how to completely communicate. But they are just such a helpful and grateful culture. If someone could help you, they would walk you down the street if they could. If you looked confused, they would walk you to the right train and then make their commute home. It was wonderful.
How did they comprehend the show?
We subtitled it. On the side with projections. There were also a lot of English speakers that came to the show. They have these giant programs that explain the whole story so a lot of people show up a lot earlier than American audiences to read the book so that they know what they are going into. What was nice for me was how their culture influenced me. The audiences are so overwhelmingly grateful and we had to extend our bows because at the end of the show they just they just stay there for ten to 15 extra minutes than American audiences. In America, people leave the theatre to get to their cars quickly in. But there they show respect and thank you by giving extended standing ovations and staying until the orchestra has played the very last not. It’s great to be a part of. It gave me a better perspective of how powerful story-telling and theater is. Coming back to the United States, it made me just more excited to continue this career.
Speaking of your career, what is next for you?
I don’t know. I am getting married. I’m going to plan that. With the life of an actor, a contract ends and you have a job coming right up after that or your contract ends. Another time you end a contract and you take a vacation and then you get back into audition season.
Do you grieve when you end a show?
Oh, for sure. There is a such a special thing that happens, especially when you are on the road. People become your family and you get very accustomed to seeing them every day and you change so much and grow so much with these people. When you end that experience, it is quite jarring and sad and you go through a mourning period trying to pick up your life where you left it. I have even mourned the shorter runs of things I have done regionally. Luckily in this business you end up working together again or you meet for lunch in the city or you happen to be neighbors in the city and social media makes it much easier to keep in touch with people, through texting. So it is much easier now to mourn that loss and stay connected to people.
What are some projects you would like to pursue?
I would really love to do some TV work. That is the next thing I am going to go for. A series, comedy, drama. Anything, honestly. I would love to see what the other side of this industry offers. I filmed my first movie last summer and I just had a blast on set. I would love to kind of experience that again.
Has the film been released?
Not yet. It is called “200 Hours.” It was so fun and I loved the people I worked with. They were so accommodating to me, being new being on the set. I would love to experience more of it. The director was Philip Guzman. It’s a horror/thriller movie. It’s set in the ’80s and it’s about this group of medical students. They are testing this pill and test goes horribly wrong.
Quite a switch from what you are doing now on stage, right?
Oh totally. Completely different. I had pink hair and it was super fun.
What was it like working with Mitchell Wray?
He’s a great actor. Working with him was amazing. He’s an old soul which is so interesting to see in a kid. There were times when I saw him as just a little boy and other moments when we had real conversations and I was talking to an adult who had lived life. It was super fun and he has just a wonderful, attractive family. I love Mitchell’s spirit. He is such a light when he walks into a room and so easy to work with on stage, so yes, I had a blast with him.
Have you ever played Indy?
I have. I was in the ensemble of “Wicked.”
Where are you now?
Charlotte, North Carolina. for this week. Then we go to Omaha Nebraska and then on to Indianapolis.
What can my readers expect when they see “Finding Neverland?”
While there are so many spectacle moments in the show it is much more a story of connecting to someone who has a different background than you do. It is also about finding ways to influence each other’s lives in a positive way and moving them forward and really changing people’s lives by just talking to them, and experiencing what they are living and are going through. People should expect, at the end of the show, to be really, really moved. They will want to call up their friends and their family members and express their gratefulness for being in each other’s lives. When I saw the show on Broadway. I immediately wanted to call my mom and say “I love you. You are great.” I think that is what audiences will take away from the show.
Tickets are on sale now for “Finding Neverland” and are available in person at Clowes Memorial Hall, the Old National Centre Ticket Office, online at BroadwayinIndianapolis.com, or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.