By Leonardo Sanchez | Staff Writer
Before the orchestra started to play “Finding Neverland’s” score at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts last week, the audience was greeted by an unexpected, yet familiar light flying around the theater’s curtains. There was no need for explanation: the shine belonged to Tinkerbell, the fairy from J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.” Being part of such a beloved and timeless story, the character needed no introduction.
However, the narrative of the Broadway musical is not as well-known as Peter Pan himself. It actually tells the story behind the play that eternalized Barrie’s name in world literature. Based on the Oscar-nominated movie from 2004, “Finding Neverland” follows the British author during the creation of the boy who wouldn’t grow up, whose adventures were inspired by the fours sons of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, a London aristocrat.
Some people may see “Peter Pan” as a children’s novel. The story, however, is appealing to anyone, thanks to Barrie’s inventiveness when it comes to awakening the inner child of its readers. It’s an 112-year-old story that, just like its main character, has never grown any older, remaining magical and powerful in its own, unique way.
The task of bringing its creation to life, therefore, is an audacious and hard thing to do. “Finding Neverland” fails to deliver the same level of enchantment of “Peter Pan” to the stage, but still has brilliancy in it.
The musical opened on Broadway in 2015, where it had a 17-month run. It ended up becoming a critical flop and it’s not hard to understand “Finding Neverland’s” negative reception, thanks to its exaggerated, tiring liability in the drama behind J.M. Barrie’s relation to the Llewelyn Davies.
However, it’s safe to assume that critics may have overreacted. The musical has its problems, but watching it is definitely not a bad experience. It deserved better.
Technically, “Finding Neverland” is stunning. The looks of its sets and visual effects allow the story to play with our imagination. There is no way of explaining how fantastic it is to see Barrie’s characters come to life all at once, when his play is being staged at the Llewelyn Davies’ house.
The choreography – especially when it’s used to illustrate Peter Pan’s ability to fly – is a key point for giving the show some of its magic. Using a lot of glitter to depict Tinker Bell’s pixie dust, the audience gets easily fascinated. Sometimes, however, it’s just too much.
Perhaps the biggest problem with “Finding Neverland” is the exact same one of its cinematic version – which is way better, for the record. They both overdo the sentimentality of the story, using artificial, cheesy scenes that lack subtlety and simply don’t fit the narrative. There’s a constant feeling that the audience is being pushed too hard to cry.
The score may be an issue as well. Composed by Take That’s vocalist Gary Barlow and with lyrics by Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, the music in “Finding Neverland” sometimes lacks the weight that such a delicate and powerful story requires. Unstable, the soundtrack is made up of tunes with lyrics that may sound too rough. Many numbers, however, can be surprisingly pleasant.
“Believe” is a musical and visual delight, that is able to stimulate anyone’s imagination and can certainly live up to the idea of not growing up behind “Peter Pan.” “Neverland” and “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground,” on the other hand, get it right when it comes to adding tenderness to the show.
Also to be highlighted is Tom Hewitt’s funny performance as both Charles Frohman, the producer, and Captain Hook. The actor stands out and is only overshadowed by the real dog that eventually shows up in the stage, to the audience’s delight.
There’s no denial that “Finding Neverland” is a musical far from perfect. It’s undoubtedly entertaining and funny, however, and questions the meaning of time and growing old in a creative way.
While adding more drama to the story already known from the 2004 movie starred by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, “Finding Neverland” may lose some of its beauty and authenticity. It’s definitely worth the ticket, however, and is a truly amusing, family-friendly experience for anyone who’s still young at heart.