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(National Tour)
Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Book by James Graham

AT&T Performing Arts Center

Directed by Diane Paulus
Choreography by Mia Michaels
Musical Direction by Ryan Cantwell
Orchestrations by Simon Hale
Scenic Design by Scott Pask
Costume Design by Suttirat Anne Larlarb
Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner
Sound Design by Jonathan Deans
Projection Design by Jon Driscoll
Hair/Make Up Design by Richard Mawbey
Illusions by Paul Kieve
Air Sculptor by Daniel Sculptor
Music Supervision by Fred Lassen
Flying Effects by Production Resource Group
Company Management by Jose Solvian
Production Stage Management by Kelsey Tippins
Stage Management by Genevieve Kersh
Assistant Stage Management by Alex Eberle

Billy Harrigan Tighe- J.M. Barrie
Sylvia Llewelyn Davies- Christine Dwyer
Charles Frohman/Captain James Hook- John Davidson
Karen Murphy- Mrs. Du Maurier
Turner Birthisel- Peter, Jack, Michael
Connor Jameson Casey- George, Peter, Jack
Wyatt Cirbus- Peter, Jack, Michael
Bergman Freedman- George, Peter, Jack
Tyler Patrick Hennessy- Jack, Michael
Colin Wheeler- George, Jack, Peter
Kristine Reese- Mary Barrie
Christina Belinsky- Ensemble
Caitlyn Caughell- Miss Jones/ Ensemble
Sara Marie Charles- Ensemble
Adrianne Chu- Wendy (Acting Troupe) / Ensemble
Calvin L. Cooper- Ensemble
Dwelvan David- Mr. Henshaw / Ensemble
Nathan Duszny- Ensemble
Victoria Huston Elem- Miss Bassett / Ensemble
Thomas Miller- Elliot / Ensemble
Noah Plomgren- Lord Cannan / Ensemble
Will Ray- Captain Hook (Acting Troupe) / Ensemble
Corey Rives- Albert / Ensemble
Dee Tomasetta- Peter Pan/Ensemble
Matt Wolphe- Mr. Cromer / Ensemble
Melissa Hunter McCann, Connor Mcrory, Matthew Quinn-Swings

Reviewed Performance: 7/11/2017

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

The musical Finding Neverland was created from two major sources, the film version that starred Johnny Depp and the book The Man Who Was Behind Peter Pan by Allan Knee. Many new musicals have tough, complicated highs and lows it must overcome to reach the great white way. But Finding Neverland had a tough journey as it weathered some torrid, blistering waters to drop anchor on Broadway. It didn’t help that all the drama that was behind the scenes landed on the pages of several New York newspapers and columns. This has happened before; remember all that brouhaha that swirled around the Boy George musical Taboo and its producer Rosie O’Donnell?

Finding Neverland went through several composers, book writers, directors, and actors before it reached the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in April 2015.

After two out of town tryouts, the musical obtained as one of its major producers none other than Harvey Weinstein. This would become both a curse and a blessing for the musical.

One of Weinstein’s biggest mistakes was his push to get a musical number from the show to perform on the Tony Awards telecast. This caused major controversy among Broadway industry folk. Why? Well at that time the musical had not even opened on Broadway. What made it worse was not having the number performed by anyone from the cast, but instead Weinstein had Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson singing the number who had no Broadway background (The Color Purple was a couple of years later). Later on Weinstein stated in an interview with Forbes that he regretted doing that.

At first it was announced that Jeremy Jordan (of Newsies fame) would repeat his role of J.M. Barre on Broadway. Jordan had done the role during it’s out of town tryout at the American Repertory Theater. But alas he would be replaced by Matthew Morrison.

As previews began to run at the Lunt-Fontanne, there were storms brewing between Weinstein and the show’s publicist Rick Miramonlez. According to published articles, Weinstein was furious on how Miramonlez’s strategies on how to promote the musical were not working. Weinstein wanted the leads on magazine covers and articles about the show and its stars to be featured in the Gotham papers. The battle got so ugly that Miramonlez resigned.

Finally the musical opened on Broadway in March 2015. A month later when the Tony award nominations were announced, Finding Neverland sadly did not receive a single nomination. But in their defense there were thirteen other shows that did not garner a single Tony nod.

However, that bizarre twist returned once more. Even with no nominations, the musical did perform at that year’s Tony awards telecast. It is well known that only nominated musicals are invited to perform on the telecast.

The musical did have glowing word of mouth praise on various blogs and theater related websites. Neverland would close in August 2016 with 565 performances under its tricorn feathered hats.

Weinstein would have the last laugh. The musical did achieve outstanding at the box office during its run and was one of the first musicals from the 2015 season announcing a national tour was already being planned.

This musical about the genius behind the creation of Peter Pan has now reached the Winspear Opera House for its Dallas Texas run.

As it is with several productions that leave New York to go on the road, the creative team got back together to do a lab on the show itself. They took the first 10-15 minutes of the original and have completely changed it. They dropped a couple of the original songs, created new choreography in some numbers, and retooled the book before actual rehearsals even started.

The score by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy is a mixture of pop, vaudeville, music hall, and even Irish jig. James Graham’s book does have a bit of a struggle in the first act to sync with the score, but once it does, it succeeds with the comedy as well as handling the painful, darker tones within the dramatic scene work.

Director Diane Paulus who helmed the highly successful Pippin revival does a remarkable job here as well. She wisely directed her actors to stay planted in reality and not fall into the door trap of over doing the drama both in music and script. She allows the broad comedy to expand with excellent results. The staging and blocking never seems to be repetitive or mundane. It is quite clear that she and her choreographer worked very closely in collaborating to achieve artistic success.

Mia Michaels’ choreography is absolutely stunning and surprising for this production. If you were a fan of the first six seasons of FOX’s So You Think You Can Dance then you have seen her work. Personally, one of my all-time favorite routines on this dance competition series was Michaels’ contemporary duet with Travis Wall and Heidi Groskreutz that took place on a park bench. For Neverland, Michaels work is prominent. She has infused contemporary, modern, jazz, and even Irish jig into her dance creations. There are several exceptional numbers from Michaels within this musical; my personal favorites were “The Dinner Party” and “Circus of Your Mind.” For both numbers Michaels choreographed a whirlwind of creativity for the eyes. She lacquered her dancers with such distinctive and isolated movements that added a whole layer of emotional subtext to the piece. Her work here is exquisite.

Scott Pask’s scenic design is an assortment of single set pieces big and small, as well as flown in walls and backdrops. His color palette is bold with greens, blues, lavenders and other rich colors. Suttirat Anne Larlarb’s costumes immediately transport the audience to that era. A stand out design was the chartreuse silk gown with gold beading that Mrs. Du Maurier wore for the dinner party. Kenneth Posner’s lighting is extraordinary as usual. In several scenes you can tell that he had great fun in going crazy with color, focus and design. The thrilling projection designs by Jon Driscoll transports the audience into a dizzy frenzy of visual excitement. Several musical numbers also contained a fascinating array of projections.

One of the most beautiful and magical moments occurs late in Act II that was created with illusions by Paul Keeve and air sculptor Daniel Sculptor. I won’t reveal what it is, but I will say many in the audience gasped because it was so majestic and gorgeous to see unfold on stage.

I was given a backstage tour after the show and got to see the magic behind the curtain. It takes seven large trucks to transport this massive tour from city to city. They actually build an entire floor on top of the stage floor due to all the mechanical sets and illusions that come alive.

There is a plethora of preeminent talent that performs on that specially made stage floor. The ensemble is first rate. They execute flawlessly the choreography and provide stellar vocals in the company numbers. Their energy and enthusiasm was on full throttle.

Within this company there were several stand out performances: Kristine Reese as Mary Barrie (the frosty wife who cared more about moving up in the society ladder than her marriage); Matthew Quinn as Mr. Cromer (his Act II rehearsal scene is rip roaring hysterical); Noah Plowgren as Lord Cannan (a snobbish lord who is hair follicle challenged); Corey Rives as the butler Albert (Rives has one of the funniest English accents within the cast); Thomas Miller as Elliot (the poor assistant who has to carry five chairs or four kids all at once); Dwelvan David as thespian Mr. Henshaw (who has some of the best one liners contained in the book); and Karen Murphy as Mrs. Du Maurier, the snobbish Grande dame who if her nose were any higher up she would drown in a rainstorm. This role could have easily stayed stuck in one lane, but Murphy gives her wonderful balance of being caring and loving, but can turn pretentious in a second.

At curtain call you can tell that Connor Jameson Casey (Peter), Colin Wheeler (George), Turner Birthisel (Jack), and Tyler Patrick Hennessy (Michael) stole everyone’s hearts. These four boys gave enchanting performances. They had one of the best numbers of the evening titled “We’re All Made of Stars”. Special kudos to Connor Jameson Casey as Peter, he connects like emotional Velcro to the dramatic arc his character has to travel on. (NOTE: These four roles are double cast).

TV icon John Davidson portrays Charles Forhman, the producer to J.M. Barrie’s plays. He is also Captain Hook when Barrie creates his villain on his latest work. It is quite evident that Davidson is having so much fun with his duo roles. He has great delight as Forhman when he leads the company in the Irish flavored number “Play” and as the nasty villain he leads his pirates in the enthralling number “Hook”.

Sylvia Llewelyn Davies is Christine Dwyer, a young, beautiful mother of four boys who also happens to be a widow. All five are enjoying a lovely day in the park when they meet J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe). This by chance meeting will greatly alter their lives. In Ms. Davies’ stage credits it is noted that she has portrayed Elphaba both on Broadway as well as the national tour of Wicked. So you know she has the vocal pipes, and does she ever. There are several songs where she marvelously displays her superior soprano voice. A luminous, pure voice that is balanced with a strong vibrato. Within the score she brings to rich vocal life in her moving solo “All That Matters”. Her connection with her four boys is heartwarming and quite believable. The chemistry she has with Mr. Tighe has a realistic progression from friend to a man she falls deeply in love with. Davies is able to balance the emotions of a mother to a woman in love. Davies delivers a stupendous performance.

The toughest role in this musical is J.M. Barrie. The character practically never leaves the stage, has the bulk of the musical numbers, and a character arc that has several paths he must glide through, each with a specific emotion and resolution. Billy Harrigan Tighe delivers a spectacular performance in this role. Tighe has the challenging task of not only having to carry the entire show on his shoulders, but must also set the tone and pace for the entire company. He succeeds in doing this with stunning success. He accomplishes this with complete believability within his acting craft and subtext connecting with the various people in his life. Such as his producer, his wife, the four boys, and especially Christine. His emotional focus to the lyrics of his songs rings truth and understanding.

His characterization wafts through the comedy and the dramatic moments with equal success. His singing voice is simply put, phenomenal. The score has him going from high tenor belt to falsetto, and Tighe achieves this without a hint of a vocal break or crack. He has the showstopper solo of the evening with “Stronger” that requires him to belt on a higher key than the rest of the company. While in Act II he has several songs where he reveals his glorious falsetto. This allows Tighe to display just how controlled he is with his singing instrument. It is not faint or strained, but robust, soft, with his muscular vibrato firmly beneath it.

Davies and Tighe have radiant chemistry that avoids the paint by number “We’re in love” tones that many romantic couples fall into on stage. They both let the subtext and concatenation grow between them with organic honesty. Both sing with superlative voices in several duets, such as “Neverland” and “What You Mean To Me”.

Tighe’s theatrical background shows that he has been a Mormon stuck in Africa, a spoiled playboy who falls for a girl with green skin, and as the handsome TV star of the Corny Collins show who falls in love with a girl named Tracy Turnblad. He has now challenged himself artistically as J.M. Barrie, a role that seems to have been written specifically for him and his abundance of talent. His performance in Neverland is both transcendent and unsurpassed.

Finding Neverland is one of those lucky musicals that thankfully got a second life once it left Broadway. It allowed its artistic team to rework on it and then sending it out for new audiences to enjoy. But it is so, so much more than about Peter Pan. It is about taking a risk as an artist, of losing a loved one, of creating a new family, and to accept love again in your heart, no matter the risks or results. Let this lavish musical and majestic company guide you to find your own personal Neverland.

Winspear Opera House, AT&T Performing Arts Center
Playing through July 23, 2017

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