I saw the musical, “Finding Neverland” in November at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago. Nevertheless, I was pleased to have the opportunity to see the same touring production again on Tuesday. Presented by Broadway in Indianapolis, the show is playing at Clowes Memorial Hall at the Butler Arts Center through Sunday, Oct. 22.
In some ways, it was like seeing the show for the first time because some of the actors I saw in the Chicago production have since been replaced. Fresh faces for me included Billy Harrigan Tighe as J.M. Barrie, John Davidson who plays both Charles Froman and Captain Hook, plus the boys who play the Davies children.
As I never tire of seeing any version of the classic Peter Pan story, I suspect the same will hold true for the back story of how it came to be created. “Finding Neverland” is about a widowed mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four spirited boys who develop a friendship with playwright J.M. Barrie. Eventually the family becomes a basis for his 1904 play “Peter Pan, Or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” The musical is based on the 2004 film “Finding Neverland” with screenplay by David Magee and the 1998 play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Alan Knee.
“Finding Neverland” was directed by Tony-winner Diane Paulus with book by James Graham, music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, and Mia Kennedy as choreographer.
A story about the power of imagination, “Finding Neverland,” with its ingenious sets, complex video projections, eye-popping special effects, lighting design and costumes, is an unforgettable spectacle. The script, replete with clever dialogue is very funny. And of course, highly entertaining was the cast of comic performers, many of whom created colorful, quirky characters and were skillful at sight gags and physical comedy.
Billy Tighe excelled as J.M. Barrie, and turned in fine acting and vocal performances as the struggling playwright who finds himself in an unhappy marriage and a professional rut until the Davies boys help him get his creative juices flowing again. Tighes’s vocals were potent during his powerful performances of “Stronger Part I,” “Hook,” and “Stronger Part II,” the last of which closes Act One.
Christine Dwyer exhibited chemistry with Tighe and turned in a strong performance as the free-spirited widow Sylvia who encourages her always-energetic sons to use their imaginations through play. Dwyer was especially affecting when she sang “Sylvia’s Lullaby.”
Broadway and television star John Davidson was delightfully convincing in his dual roles as Barrie’s cantankerous producer Frohman and the villainous Hook.
A highlight of the show was “Circus Part I, II, III, and IV,” and “The World is Upside Down,” two production numbers that featured the dynamic ensemble of seasoned, triple-threat performers who expertly rendered Mia Michael’s thoroughly innovative choreography.
Particularly noteworthy were the charming performances of the multi-talented quartet of young actors who played the lively Davies brothers. Conner Casey played Peter, Colin Wheeler was George, Wyatt Cirbus was Jack and Tyler Hennessy was Michael.
A show that appeals to all ages, “Finding Neverland” is a testament to familial love and the power of the imagination. Although serious issues of loss and death are explored, one cannot help but be uplifted by the story with its message of hope.
“Finding Neverland” plays Clowes Memorial Hall October 17-22. The performance schedule is Wednesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday & Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday matinee at 2:00 p.m., Sunday matinee at 1:00 p.m., and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Tickets 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.