Opening night for Finding Neverland in Dallas ended with a cheering crowd and a standing ovation. This whimsical musical runs through July 23 at the AT&T Performing Arts Center Margot and Bill Winspear Opera House in the downtown Dallas Arts District.
These days, most of us know “adulting” is hard work and if you don’t believe it, we have the memes to prove it. After a long day on the job, we grown ups even have TV shows about time lords, zombies, and queens who give birth to dragons to make us forget our cares.
In 1903, however, the fantasy genre was not mainstream adult entertainment. While it’s hard to believe now, when J.M. Barrie first dreamt up his famous play about fairies, immortal boys, and a crocodile who swallowed a clock, he met a lot of resistance.
This musical retelling of J.M. Barrie’s life is based on the movie Finding Neverland (starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet), and the play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan.” It features a book by James Graham, with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Finding Neverland tells the story of J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe) who, just like Peter Pan, never wants to grow up. One day while seeking inspiration in the park, the young playwright befriends a beautiful widow and her four young sons.
J.M. Barrie’s friendship with these children rekindles his own playful nature. In the months to follow, he spends more and more time with the boys. Of course this also means he is spending more and more time with their mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Christine Dwyer.) Since J.M. Barrie is still married, their relationship sends gossip mongers’ tongues wagging.
Despite this, J.M. Barrie finds so much inspiration from the Llewelyn Davies’ family that it cures his writer’s block and he pens a new play, called Peter Pan. I won’t reveal too much, but by the end of the tale, J.M. Barrie is a permanent part of the Llewelyn Davies’ family, although not quite in the way you expect. There is a bittersweet quality to it that was depicted so beautifully in the musical that it may bring a tear to your eyes. (In fact, it’s my favorite scene!)
As J.M. Barrie bonds with the widow and her boys, he forms a special relationship with one in particular. Her son, Peter, it seems, is the opposite of J.M. Barrie. While Peter was once the silliest child in her brood, since his father’s death, he has become quite serious, and no longer plays make believe with his brothers. Much of the story revolves around how J.M. Barrie and young Peter bond over the power of the imagination.
While Finding Neverland might be described as “Peter Pan for adults,” I saw plenty of children in attendance, and the show is filled with enough light humor and whimsy to keep young ones entertained, as well. (There is, however, an age restriction. So, if you have kids under the age of 5, it’s best to find a babysitter.)
And just as the character of J.M. Barrie regains his sense of fun by using the power of his imagination,Finding Neverland invites the audience to do so, as well. The staging for this musical perfectly blends high tech effects and low tech whimsy. I especially enjoyed the use of shadows.
There’s no fancy aerial work inFinding Neverland, either, no Cirque du Soleil style high wire routines. Instead, when characters need to fly, they are held aloft by other cast members and whizzed around the stage. It’s up to audience members to imagine them flying.
And it works!
Finding Neverland features a talented cast, full of strong singing voices. The choreography is imaginative and fun. One of my favorite numbers is “We’re All Made of Stars.” It is sung by the four boys while no adults are on stage. Showing them on their own like that gives the audience a chance to truly appreciate these talented youngsters.
Although it’s not a strict retelling of Peter Pan by any means, Finding Neverland pays a visit to memorable characters from that story along the way. My favorite example of this is how theater producer, Charles Frohman (John Davidson) became Captain James Hook when it suited the storyline. It was a delight to see John Davidson’s charisma shining through in this role. I remember him as a talk show host, but didn’t realize he had such a great voice!
My advice? Take the second star to the right and grab your tickets to Finding Neverland while it’s still in town!
Follow Finding Neverland on social media:
See Finding Neverland in Dallas:
Where: AT&T Performing Arts Center/Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, TX 75201
When: Through July 23, 2017
Tickets: Check availability and book online at the AT&T Performing Art Center official website.
Runtime: Runs for 150 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.
NOTE: While tickets were provided for review purposes, the opinions expressed in this article are wholly my own.
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