Have you forgotten how to play? Take the second star on the right and go straight on until you reach The Bushnell to find your inner Lost Boy and pixie dust glimmer of childhood spirit in the stage adaptation of the film “Finding Neverland.”
The musical brings to life the magic of J.M. Barrie’s imagination as he grapples with writer’s block, life setbacks, and literary ennui and ultimately culls through his everyday experiences to craft the beloved classic we know as “Peter Pan.”
Barrie’s sense of childhood wonderment and joy is reignited when he meets his muse, Sylvia Davies and her children George, Jack, and – surprise, surprise – Peter and Michael. It’s inspiring, as a writer, to really delve into his creative process and see the struggles he faced in crafting his masterpiece and getting his producer and acting troupe on board with a play geared toward children. But “Peter Pan” is valuable for adults to experience too because it encourages us to tap into the child in all of us to infuse our adult lives with the same simple pizzazz, curiosity, fun, aspirations, and positivity we might have lost sight of in the mix of growing up.
Billy Harrigan Tighe, playing the role originated by Johnny Depp in the film and Matthew Morrison on Broadway, delivers us a charismatic, perseverant, and optimistic Barrie who just needs to find his Neverland to get out of a writing rut. As he rediscovers his childhood spirit and is steadfast in his belief in his story, you don’t feel sorry for him because he picks himself up quickly. His writer’s block and marital troubles are a mere shadow once “Peter Pan” takes hold and he spends time with the darling Davies family. His silky, crisp tenor vocals make us trust and love his character more.
Michael Davies (Turner Birthisel, Wyatt Cirbus, Tyler Patrick Hennessy depending on the performance) is a precious hoot with his pep. You feel for Peter Davies (Turner Birthisel, Connor Jameson Casey, Wyatt Cirbus, Bergman Freeman, Colin Wheeler), the inspiration for the title name, as he grows and taps into his child creativity despite having a hard time with losing his father and understanding his mother’s illness.
Tighe’s duet with Peter was adorable with beautiful harmonies when his voice wasn’t drowning out the child actor’s.
Christine Dwyer embodies a calming, gentle, and kind persona as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, juxtaposed against her protective mother and Barrie’s materialistic, shrill wife, Mary (Kristine Reese). It’s no wonder she played Elphaba on Broadway because her voice stands out above the rest with a power and sweetness that’s captivating.
John Davidson is able to temper his overbearing role as Barrie’s pressuring producer Charles Frohman with comedic punctuation. Even though he parallels with Captain Hook as possible inspiration for the villain, he maintains a dose of likeability. His haunting Hook also is the centerfold of bringing drama and intrigue to Barrie’s story and serves as his daring alter-ego that inspires him to take risks. Even though we hate villains, they are crucial to personal growth.
“Finding Neverland” is charming in large part because of the ensemble who put a stamp on the show with humorous, memorable cameos from the actor playing Michael realizing he’s afraid of heights while stage flying to the actor playing Nana coming to terms with wearing a dog costume. The most lively scenes are the play-within-a-play moments when we see the acting troupe bring “Peter Pan” to life on stage and in the Davies’ nursery.
Plus the production can’t help but win us over with a real dog on stage.
Visually, “Finding Neverland” makes good use of projection technology in a tasteful way that doesn’t overdo it – particularly in the clocklike dance number. Moving imagery enhances the sensation of spinning and movement in a scene of spiraling montages. The wind tunnel toward the end with a gust of glitter that carries Sylvia’s robe into the celestial night is breathtaking.
The shadows cast on the walls in a romantic scene between Barrie and Sylvia magnify action with sheer artistry, also paying homage to Peter Pan’s introduction into the Darlings’ lives trying to reconnect with his own shadow.
I appreciated the literary and inside jokes with the audience about moments in Barrie’s life that inspired parts of the story. The musical was a delightful capsule examining the creative process that brings art and other worlds to life.
It was a short musical with acts that went by very quickly, but it was very sweet.
Do you believe in fairies? You have to so they can believe in themselves. Just like art and theater require the belief and support of everyone involved and the patrons to exist. The more we believe in art, the more the artists believe in themselves to keep the magic alive.
Show that you believe and find your Neverland at The Bushnell on Capitol Avenue in Hartford, Connecticut through Sunday. Tic tock. More information on the production and tickets is available at www.bushnell.org.