Charming Cast Makes FINDING NEVERLAND Magical

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FINDING NEVERLAND at the Fabulous Fox Theatrer. Photo Credit: FabulousFox.com

Why do you suppose “magic” is so popular these days? From stage acts like Penn & Teller and guerrilla magicians like David Blaine, to books, television programs and films based on J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard Harry Potter or George R. R. Martin’s GAME OF THRONES, and Marvel’s DOCTOR STRANGE, people can’t seem to get enough of magic. I think there’s a pretty simple explanation for that—the human experience in so-called “real life” is devoid of magic, be it artificial trickery, metaphysical mysticism or otherwise. Show me the magic in working in a dreary cubicle, churning out another spreadsheet to go over in another soul-crushingly boring meeting. Show me the magic in choosing from two of the least popular political candidates in the history of the United States. Show me the magic eating out of a box filled with products grown in a Monsanto lab rather than soil and sunlight. Cell phones are as addictive as cigarettes, but probably cause more accidents, and some may even explode. The 21st Century flat-out sucks, quite frankly, and that’s because we know too much, and dream too little.

That brings me to the Fabulous Fox Theatre on a bracing December evening for the National Tour of FINDING NEVERLAND, a musical inspired by the 2004 film of the same name, which was based on the book The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allen Knee. Featuring music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and a book by James Graham, FINDING NEVERLAND is a celebration of magic at its purest—unfettered imagination. The plot is pretty straightforward. J.M. Barrie (Kevin Kern) is struggling to come up with a new hot play for his patron, producer Charles Frohman (Tom Hewitt), in Kensington Gardens, London when four kids named George (Finn Faulconer), Jack (Mitchell Wray), Michael (Jordan Cole) and Peter (Ben Krieger) playfully accost him. Barrie quickly warms up to the children and encourages their flight of fancy. Soon their mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Christine Dwyer) arrives to collect her brood, and the two hit it off. Of course, Barrie is married to an upwardly reaching socialite named Mary (Crystal Kellogg). Mary plans a dinner party which J.M. invites Sylvia and the boys to, and as usual boys will be boys. Mary and J.M.’s marriage hits the rocks but his relationship to Sylvia and the boys continues to grow, despite the protestations of Mrs. du Maurier (Joana Glushak), Sylvia’s mother. You can Google J.M Barrie on one of those 21st century information overload devices or look it up the old fashioned way in your grandpa’s Encyclopedia Britannica, but the Barrie/Davies relationship is star-crossed to say the least. Finding inspiration from the imaginative adventures of his surrogate sons, he crafts a play called “Peter Pan”—you may have heard of it. The actors in Frohman’s troupe don’t really get it, at first, but eventually come to remember what all adults forget—how to play, how to imagine, how to see and experience magic!

The first act is a wonderful journey of friendship and finding joy in the mundane, with a little imagination. A gnarled stick is a sharp length of good Toledo steel in the hands of an 8 year old pirate boy. The reflection of candlelight off of a spoon onto the wall of a formal dining room signals the presence of faeries amongst the revelers. As J.M.’s feelings for Ms. Davies continue to grow, his inner thoughts manifest as ol’ Captain Hook (Tom Hewitt again), prodding Barrie to man up and kiss the girl. All of these moments and more brought smiles to my face throughout the show. Kevin Kern and Christine Dwyer exhibit fine chemistry, complimenting each in duet and dance. A candlelit scene in the second act in which the leads share a dance was subtle but mesmerizing, watching the shadows on the wall of the set twirl, telling their own story parallel to their living counterparts. The crook of Charles Frohman’s cane at times resembled Barrie’s subconscious alter ego’s hook in shadow, a deliberate act that Tom Hewitt pulls off completely naturally. The real stars of the production, however, are the lads. Messrs. Krieger, Faulconer, Wray and Cole were fantastic, each given moments to shine, usually with a witty line, like inquiring of Mr. Frohman, “Do you believe in faeries?” The theatre veteran did a double-take with the audience and replied, “Young man, this is theatre!” The young woman seated to my left could hardly stop giggling for the rest of the scene, and we shared a knowing chuckle at the perhaps not-so-subtle inside joke.

With bright and beautiful backdrops eschewing any need of overly elaborate sets, some nicely incorporated special effects, memorable lines, familiar artifacts from Peter Pan sprinkled throughout, and a message close to my heart—that being an adult doesn’t mutually exclude experiencing a bit of magic in our everyday lives—FINDING NEVERLAND has found a place in my heart. My only quibble is the songs. The quieter ballads are generally fine, such as “My Imagination” or “What You Mean to Me.” Others, such as “Circus of Your Mind” and “Play” just don’t quite fit the mood to me, with the former in particular feeling unnecessarily dark. I suppose that’s somewhat hypocritical of me, considering my favorite song in an otherwise cheerful film like WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY is the dark and macabre “Rowing Song,” but I just found a few of the numbers a little disquieting for what is basically a somewhat tragic romantic comedy.

Nonetheless, FINDING NEVERLAND was a delightful celebration of imagination, something sorely lacking in the modern workaday world. Like Peter Pan, there are deeper meanings beneath the whimsy, and there should be. A man showering himself in gold sparkles just for the sake of gold sparkles would just be weird, but as Kevin Kern closes the first act in an effect of a magical vortex of faeries and magic dust, he is a metaphor for seeing the wonder of the world the way you did when you were innocent, when everything had a kind of magic attached to it. Like J.M. Barrie, I believe it still does. You just have to let yourself see it. Let yourself see FINDING NEVERLAND before it closes at the Fabulous Fox Theatre on December 18, 2016. For ticket information, please visit www.fabulousfox.com and check out www.findingneverlandthemusical.com to see when the National Tour of FINDING NEVERLAND is coming to your town.

NOTE: We we're informed after posting this article that Peter was played on opening night by Ben Krieger, not Eli Tokash as previously indicated. The correction has been made, but we're reasonably certain young Master Tokash would be delightful to watch too.

Grade: 
4.5 / 5.0