I know this may surprise some of my more sophisticated readers, but FINDING NEVERLAND is now probably in my top five favorite musicals of all time. It might not surprise you as much if you knew the other four, I guess, and it would surprise you even less if you knew my affinity for the idea of Peter Pan. In fact, it’s fair to say that I am infatuated with the idea of Peter Pan – that a boy can not grow up – much more than I am any version of the story that’s ever been produced.
The reason why I think you might be surprised I liked it so much is because many people who are in the profession of theatre see many faults in the show. Like the mish-mashed score; there are some style clashes, yes, but the songs that work are stunning. The script has some weak areas; the cast of the touring production that opened in Cincinnati tonight, though, overcame some of the lamer moments with spectacular timing, wit, and characters.
And sure, it’s got plenty of melodrama. The second act drags a little in the middle, sure. And without spectacular child actors, the show treads into the danger zone.
But I don’t care. Because FINDING NEVERLAND made me cry, it made me laugh, and made me want to leap out of my seat with thunderous applause a couple of times. One of those was after the awesome solo by Lael Van Keuren (“Sylvia’s Lullaby”) in Act One. Another was the Act One finale, “Stronger,” which featured some of the most energetic stage metamorphoses I’ve ever seen. And who can not love the gorgeous cyclone of glitter towards the end of Act Two?
Billy Harrington Tighe, a CCM graduate, has the voice of an angel and the stage presence of a superstar. He plays JM Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. He finds his inner child through his relationship with Sylvia and her four boys, “Jack,” Michael,” “George,” and of course, “Peter.” Barrie needs to write a new play for theatre owner Charles Frohman (the wonderful John Davidson, whom I grew up watching host the Hollywood Squares.) He finds inspiration in the play of the boys and crafts the story we know and love based on their adventures in Kensington Garden. There is adversity, tragedy, and most of all a whole lot of love and affection.
I have been having a lot of long talks with myself lately about what I have and haven’t accomplished in my forty-one years. Some of it is introspective and helpful; some of it has been downright depressing. But shows like FINDING NEVERLAND remind me that the perpetual 11-year-old boy who lives inside me doesn’t ever have to grow up. And no matter what I have and haven’t done yet, there’s still time to do more. No matter what sad, tragic, frustrating, or difficult barriers may come – there’s always a story to tell, imagination to succumb to, and more life to live.
And that’s why this one snuck into my favorite list. It might just sneak on to yours, too.
FINDING NEVERLAND runs through November 19th at the Aronoff Center. Tickets and more information can be found here.