Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Broadway Theater Review: Finding Neverland with Matthew Morrison TOP PICK

After a year and a half of performances, Broadway’s Finding Neverland will play its final performance at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater on Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016. The production will transfer to London’s West End to open in the spring of 2017. Full details of the London production will be announced  with tickets for the show going on sale in the summer. The US national tour will launch Oct. 11 in Buffalo. More info: www.FindingNeverlandTheMusical.com

Matthew Morrison (center) and Kelsey Grammer (Captain Hook, front right) with the ensemble of Finding Neverland
A Magical Journey for Peter Pan -- and for the Audience
By Lauren Yarger
The story of how Peter Pan came to be might feel like a lost boy in the shadow of all the other shows getting Tony Award nominations, but Finding Neverland can crow because it easily flies to the top of the list of this season's best musicals.

With music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and book by James Graham (based on the film written by David Magee and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee,) Finding Neverland stars "Glee"'s Matthew Morrison and Kelsey Grammer (TV's "Frasier") in the tale of  J. M. Barrie and the real-life boy who inspired Peter Pan, who has been loved by generations.

Theater producer Charles Frohman (Grammer, who provides good comic relief -- especially when a reference is made to a 20th-century TV show) is hoping his favorite playwright, Barrie (Morrison), will come up with another hit. The writer, however, is uninspired, until he meets a widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly), and her brood of children: George, Peter, Jack, and Michael (the roles are shared by multiple kids).

Barrie becomes a father figure for the boys, especially shy, brooding Peter. They play games (Director Diane Paulus expertly weaves threads of Peter's Pan's story around the main action) and Barrie finds himself spending more and more time with them and their beautiful mother, who is upbeat despite recent setbacks, her judgmental mother, Mrs. DuMaurier (Carolee Carmello)  and her own declining health. 

To have faith is to have wings," she tells Barrie, lifting his spirits.

Kelly melts hearts with "All That Matters," a ballad about having the strength to go on. Beautiful scenes of London designed by Scott Pask, projections by Jon Driscoll and expert lighting by Kenneth Posner help set the soft, magical mood (Illusions are designed by Paul Kiev with “Air Sculpting” by Diane Wurtzel.) In one brilliant scene, Sylvia and Barrie's shadows tell more of the story than their actions. Suttriat Anne Larlarb designs the turn-of-the-century costumes and Richard Mawbey designs hair and makeup.

Sylvia's warm heart is a direct contrast with Barrie's cold, socially climbing wife, Mary (Teal Wicks), who turns elsewhere for affection. Barrie takes Peter's story idea and turns it into a new idea, with adult actors playing the parts of children and animals on stage (there's a large ensemble here with Paul Slade Smith  and Josh Lamon standing out). 

Performances here, as well as singing voices, are excellent across the board. And the music (directed by Mary-Mitchell Campbell) is excellent, with several tunes standing out and annoyingly replaying themselves in your head for days and weeks (the way songs from a good musical should). Music Supervision/Dance and Incidental Music are by David Chase with Orhcestrations by Simon Hale and Vocal Design by Annemarie Milazzo. My favorite: "When Your Feet Don't Touch the Ground." The original Broadway cast recording will release on June 23.

Mia Michaels of TV's "So You ThinkYou Can Dance" choreographs.

The two-hour, 30-minute run time could use a trim -- I'd love to see the ending tightened and a rather creepy Peter Pan (played by Melanie Moore) at beginning and end cut altogether. His/her flitting about was distracting. Otherwise, it's an engrossing story (most of which I had not heard before) and vastly entertaining with the best darn fairy dust I have ever seen (illusions by Paul Kieve; air sculpting by Daniel Wurtzel and flying effects by ZFX., Inc.). There were a ton of smiling kids in the audience -- a good thing for Broadway. And there is a nice message about people being able to change.

An American in Paris, Fun Home. Something Rotten! and The Visit shut Neverland out of a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical. It didn't receive any nominations at all, which is a bit puzzling, unless you understand the politics behind most of the Tony decisions....  The show did receive some Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle nods, however.

Finding Neverland plays at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th St., NYC through Aug. 21, 2016.  Performances are Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 3 pm. Tickets are $72 - $147: http://findingneverlandthemusical.com/

Christians might also like to know:
-- Minor language
-- Adultery

Note: Australian actor Anthony Warlow will step in for Grammer in mid-July. An exact date will be announced shortly. Grammer will return to the production Sept. 13. 

Full Disclosure: Music Director Campbell once was a pianist for a show I produced.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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