Finding Neverland, playing at the Buell Theatre until January 1, has its act together! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that got so much right, including the storyline, pacing, catchiness of the music, costumes, acting, warmth and special effects. Some shows lean more on one or several of those aspects but don’t hit on all cylinders. Finding Neverland absolutely did.
The show is the story of J.M. Barrie, a playwright in London in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. His inspiration has run dry and all of his plays are starting to sound alike. He needs new ideas. But most of all, he needs to have his life refreshed, his inner child awoken and for real love to find him. Done, done and done, all courtesy of Sylvia Llewelyn, a lovely young widow and her four sons.
They bring life, energy and loads of imagination and fun into Barrie’s life. As he develops the idea for a new story, Peter Pan, the audience sees where some of the inspiration for elements of the story come from – Oh, so that’s who Captain Hook is modeled after, etc.
We heard lots of “Oh, the clock!” or “So that’s who Wendy really is!” around us as people figured things out. The show ends up being a play, within a play, within a play. And maybe also within a play – it’s quite layered but easy to digest and even easier to believe! Between the really strong acting, great chemistry and moving storyline, it was wonderfully easy to get lost in this show.
Each song is complete and wonderful, easily standing on its own and not just filler. The dancing is fluid with bodies doing impressive things (watch for the clock people and Peter Pan’s rubber-bandy-body). The special effects, from props to projections on the scenery screens, put us right where they want us and add to the mood and passion of the scenes.
As I anticipated when intermission would hit, I found myself thinking “one more scene, please!” Each was like a confection!
The children in the play were wonderful. Often, kids in plays are precocious and over-bearing but these boys were real, believable and very good dancers, actors and singers. I found them thoroughly likable, just as Mr. Barrie did.
The only negatives were that some of the fast-paced lines spoken with English accents were lost, gone by just too fast and furious. And some of the female singing had that tinny quality that Broadway seems to love but that grates on non-Broadway-lovers’ ears.
Finding Neverland ends on tearful but sweet and very powerful notes with one truly magical scene that had the audience gasping and tearful, even from hard-core folks. We saw several men and some teenage boys wiping their eyes and blowing their noses as they came out. We felt ya, fellas! It was really something.
Finding Neverland is a fine, fine piece of theater and an example of just how excellent and moving and engaging it can be. Even if you’ve never really gotten into the Peter Pan story, this story will take you away to places you’ve never been.