THE MAGICAL NEW PRODUCTION OF ICONIC PETER PAN STORY IS TERRIFIC AND A PERFECT WINTER TREAT
It is hard not to use “Peter Flies into SF for the winter” - but it is the best way to describe how we discover a new NEVERLAND. The enchanting FINDING NEVERLAND is now on stage at SHN’s Orpheum theatre through Feb 11th. A dancing beacon of light shines on the bright, colorful curtain and we know it is the heart of the story, Tinker Bell, opening the tale of James Barrie the writer of “Peter Pan”. As the curtain rises the scene is booming from the “Pan” story we all know, writer J.M. Barrie (Kevin Kern) stops the action to tell us; this is FINDING NEVERLAND about the twists and inspiration that led him to the writing of “Peter Pan”. The outstanding company opens the show with “Welcome on London” infectious choreography by Mia Michaels.
The winner of Broadway.com‘s Audience Choice Award for BEST MUSICAL, written by James Graham, music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Directed by Tony award winning, Diane Paulus, whose Broadway revivals of Hair, Porgy and Bess and Pippin all collected Tony Awards. This new production is produced by Harvey Weinstein, based very closely on his multiple Academy Award nominated and (Best Original Score) Oscar winning 2004 film FINDING NEVERLAND starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet. NEVERLAND tells the behind the scenes story about the writing of “Peter Pan”. This is a classic play within a play about theatre that is always a treat for theatre folk - but in this case brings all of us along especially the “kid” in us all.
The Irish born playwright, J.M. Barrie, struggled to find inspiration for a new play and is under pressure from his producer to come up with a new show that will fill his theatre and keep his company of actors employed. Kern as Barrie opens with “My Imagination” proving he is a strong, friendly voice. He meets four young brothers and their widowed mother and inspired by their imagination, he creates the characters that are familiar in the cast of “Peter Pan”, including Tinker bell, Captain Hook, the lost boys and Wendy.
This eye catching national tour is a “must see” and has a brilliant cast with fully realized voices. Kevin Kern reprises the role of Barrie, he understudied for Matthew Morrison on Broadway and is matched with the magnetic Christine Dwyer as the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the object of Barrie’s love interest. The explosive favorite villain Tom Hewitt is endearing with his towering presence and booming voice as both the theater producer Charles Frohman and Captain Hook.
The youth actors playing the four Davies children on opening night managed the feat of stopping the show with some of the better numbers “Believe” and “Dinner Party”. The six boys rotate in the roles including local nine year old, Tyler Patrick Hennessy (Stage 1 Ragtime), plays Michael along with Jordan Cole. Finn Faulconer, Ben Krieger, Colin Wheeler, and Mitchell Wray play the other boys Peter, George, and Jack. The three boys have an outstanding number that highlights the second act “We’re All Made of Stars” where each young actor proves his excellent talent and proven voice.
I enjoy inside actor stories and behind the scene making or a play or musical because the scripts include wonderful lines that only actors playing actors can excel in. The topic of “Fairies” is the heart of Pan, the wonderful Dwelvan David who plays company actor Henshaw is asked by Barrie if he believes in fairies he says “Of course I believe in fairies I’m an actor and we are all fairies.” The San Francisco opening night sold out audience loved that line and it brought the house down.
Barlow and Kennedy’s songs are all a stand outs and include "The Dinner Party" well choreographed by “Think You Can Dance Fame”, Mia Michaels. The inspired ballads "If the World Turned Upside Down," "Believe," "All That Matters," "What You Mean to Me," "When Your Feet Don't Touch the Ground" are exceptional. The book by James Graham stays very close to the film script and history of Barrie’s struggles to write “Peter Pan”. The Act I closing number, "Stronger," is a vast production number that Paulus shows her talent of making the show as charming as its is. Paulus’ staging of "Hook," mixes into "Stronger" as pirates emerge from James' imagination and hoist the ship's rigging and sails from a misty deck. This is afirst class effective spectacle. The set up song "Circus of Your Mind," is a pure treat, its cinematic tick-tock imagery coughing up a bold visual dream from Barrie's imagination.
The lovely Dwyer, is beautiful, tender and vulnerable as the boys mon. Her solo “All That Matters” in Act I was another show-stopper and when she goes to NEVERLAND in Act II it brought many to tears. I’m not sure that I believe in fairies, but I believed in her pitch perfect performance. The story of tragic love is based on Barrie’s life, in which his marriage falls apart when his love for the widow and mother of four boys takes him over and his is inspired by the young Peter to write his play about a boy who doesn’t want to grow up. Barrie is inspired by the boys’ imaginations to ease their grief. He finds his inner child and the 1904 play takes flight to NEVERLAND, and becomes a huge hit all over the world.
There is a lot of glitz in FINDING NEVERLAND the fairy dust is glittery, and elaborate dance numbers choreographed by Michaels including movement as the actors characters take flight in balletic lifts that. There is one beautiful lighting and stage effect created by scenic designer Scott Pask and visual artist Paul Kleve that is worth the price of the ticket. The young cast are scene stealers, but they can’t really compete with the two beautiful dogs Bailey and Sammy in the show, trained by William Berloni and Tyler Garstka. There is a great scene where the live dog meets the actor maid dog, Nana, and Dwelvan David.
Other standouts in the show include Karen Murphy as the boys’ grandmother, Mrs Du Maurier, who rivals Hook as the real villain; she is a charmer. Billy Harrigan Tighe, as the task master stage manager who does some amazing juggling with the family’s luggage. Matt Wolpe is over the top as actor Mr Cromer featured in “Something about the Night” with Miller. The glam Corey Rives, as the butler, is perfect as the nance yet most of the actors playing actors are over the top with the classic gay subtext.
There are no loose ends about this production, there's also so much eye candy and magic to the look of Paulus’ production. Scott Pask's wonderful storybook sets move in and out and create backyards and dressing room settings to a huge pirate ship. Suttirat Anne Larlarb's handsome costumes bring a traditional touch of class and she set the mood for the “Peter Pan” scenes and the children's clothes. The tight orchestra under the direction of Ryan Cantwell with Musical direction by Simon Hale and Fred Lassen bring Barlow and Kennedy's score is elegant and moving. Producer Weinstein has a successful history for being a hands-on producer, his Hollywood commercial skills always rescue his film projects from failure. The glitter and love of FINDING NEVERLAND shines through with imagination and fairy dust. This new musical is perfect for the whole family, and as always SHN does its best to offer a rush seat price that makes the show easy access for families on a budget.
Book by James Graham
Music by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Directed by Diane Paulus
Through Feb 12th
SHN Orpheum Theatre,
1192 Market St., S.F.
8 p.m. Tuesdays, Fridays-Saturdays, 2 and 8 p.m.
Wednesdays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $55 to $275
(888) 746-1799, www.shnsf.com
SHN IS OFFERING A GREAT DEAL WITH THIS TOUR, YOU CAN PURCHASE RUSH TICKETS TWO HOURS BEFORE EACH PERFORMANCE. 40.00 CASH EACH ONLY IN PERSON AT THE BOX OFFICE. THE MOBILE APP IS ALSO UP AND RUNNING FOR THIS AMAZING PRODUCTION OF FINDING NEVERLAND
Learn more at shnsf.com/online/article/findingneverland.