We all know the story about the boy who never grows up, but “Finding Neverland” tells the touching tale of how the story of Peter Pan came to be. The musical starts with J.M. Barrie (played by Billy Harrigan Tighe) as a playwright in crisis. He desperately needs to come up with a new play after realizing his latest work is nothing more that a retread of his previous productions. As he walks through London’s Kensington Park he finds inspiration in a young widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (played by Christine Dwyer) and her four young rambunctious boys. What follows is a mixture of courage, pain, and magic resulting in the story of a mischievous young boy who can fly that has stood the test of time for over 113 years.
But this is London in the early 1900’s. Things are supposed to be prim and proper. Children are seen and not heard, theater is for the upper crust of society, and Barry must also contend with a snobby group of actors in the theater troupe who are chomping at the bit for their next gig. Change doesn’t come easy and he finds resistance at every turn as he tries to bring the whimsical story of magic and make believe to the London stage. Not to mention people begin to talk when he starts spending too much time with the young widow leaving his socialite wife stewing at home.
Enter the Captain Hook (played by Rory Donovan), conjured out of Barrie’s imagination. Hook is there to get Barrie to to “pirate up” and take a chance on the play and life itself. “A man who doesn’t fight for what he wants in life gets what he deserves” belows Hook. Embolden by his alter ego Barrie overcomes the many obstacles in his way and brings the show to a successful opening and become a surrogate father to the boys.
There are many great moments in, “Finding Neverland” many of which are when the young men who play the Llewelyn Davies boys are on stage. They did a fantastic job with complex performances and vocals beyond their years. On Tuesday night, Mitchell Wray played Peter, with Finn Faulconer as George, Tyler Hennessy as Jack; and Jordan Cole rounded out the foursome as Michael. All the more impressive is the fact that the boys rotate their roles meaning they have to be prepared for different lines and opposite cues on varying nights as they fill the different roles each night.
Performances by the leads were all very strong with wonderful vocals from Tighe and Dwyer. And while there were some sad moments sprinkled about (learning to deal with loss) there were also lots of laughs, many of which come from the over-the-top acting troupe Barrie must deal with. Keep and ear out for a particular exchange when one of the boys asks one of the troupe if he believes in fairies. It had the audience roaring.
The special effects in the show were simple yet elegant and compliment the story well rather than become a distraction. A real treat during the show is how moments of inspiration for the story of Peter Pan are slowly revealed to Barrie as he interacts with the world around him. Whether it is suddenly seeing playing children magically flying about the bedroom in slow motion, or the shadow of a menacing cane taking on the form of a pirates hook, you get to see the sparks of the iconic tale begin to brew in mind of the playwright. The effects in the final act are particularly moving.
This is a show for the whole family. While I have heard some describe it as a little dark I did not find that to be the case at all. In fact I think it is both a great way to introduce children to theater. It also has powerful messages for how we can all use our imagination to see the magic in the world around use and harness that magic to both deal with loss and find our courage to endure and go after our dreams.
“Finding Neverland” is at DPAC now with performances through Sunday, May 28th. For tickets visit https://www.dpacnc.com/events/detail/finding-neverland.