Finding Neverland a Magical Journey May06

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Finding Neverland a Magical Journey

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.

Matthew Morrison (center) and Kelsey Grammer (Captain Hook, front right) with the ensemble of Finding Neverland

Matthew Morrison (center) and Kelsey Grammer (Captain Hook, front right) with the ensemble of Finding Neverland

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 ne 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 by Jon Driscoll and expert lighting by Kenneth Posner help set the soft, magical mood. 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). 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.  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/

This show contains:
– Minor language
– Adultery