Fly Away to “Finding Neverland”
By Skip Sheffield
J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan fantasy has been enchanting people for more than 100 years.
“Finding Neverland,” a musical back-story on how Barrie came up with his ideas, runs through June 25 at Broward Center for the Arts.
This is a precision Disney Broadway show with vivid screen projections, clever set pieces and dazzling light design. It is distinguished by particularly strong leads. Foremost of these is Will Ray in the role of J.M. Barrie. Ray has an exquisite tenor voice, but he will be in the role only through June 16 when it will be taken over by Noah Plomgren through June 18 and then Billy Harrison Tighe through June 25. Knowing Disney they will be equally up to the task.
Christine Dwyer has an equally exquisite soprano as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, who was the model for Mrs. Darling in the finished story. She was the widowed mother of the four boys who inspired Barrie to create his juvenile characters.
James Graham has created a clever book based on historical research on author Barrie, with sly theatrical references which provide the show with much of its humor. It also provides romantic intrigue. Barrie was married to the disapproving Mary (Laol Van Keuren through June 18; Kristine Reese through June 25), who thought his fixation with Mrs. Davies’ boys and the widow herself was unhealthy and immoral. She felt her husband should “grow up,” which is exactly what Peter Pan and Barrie himself never wanted to do.
The songs, by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, advance the story entertainingly. They are played by a full live orchestra with an amazing sound system. Outstanding are Barrie’s solo “Imagination;” the production number “Believe;” “Sylvia’s Lullaby;” the four-part “Circus of Your Mind;” the duet “What You Mean to Me” and the title song “Neverland.”
A real surprise was Rory Donovan in the role of gruff American producer Charles Frohman, a baritone who unleashes his amazing range in his solo on “Circus of Your Mind.”
Then of course there are the boys and a beautiful shaggy dog. One of the boys, Ben Kreiger, is from Palm Beach Gardens. He has been with the show eight months in rotation with a couple of the boys. At age 12 he has been on the road two years.
“I really excited about returning to normal life when I leave this show,” he said. “But I will be sad I am not performing every night.”
Tickets are $26-$131. Call 954-462-0222 or go to www.browardcenter.org.