At what point do we make the switch to adulthood, where we lose our imaginations and love of playing? Why does this happen and more important, is it inevitable or can we hang onto our childishness forever? FINDING NEVERLAND, the Broadway adaptation of the Oscar award winning film of the same name, takes the audience on a magical journey of laughter and tears aiming to answer those very questions.
FINDING NEVERLAND is the fictional story of how the iconic children’s tale, Peter Pan, came to be. Author J.M. Barrie (Will Ray) is a wildly successful playwright in early 20th century London struggling to come up with an original idea for his next play. Grappling with a serious case of writers block, Barrie heads to Kensington Gardens where he meets a young widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four boys, George, Peter, Jack and Michael.
Barrie quickly befriends the young widow and her boys who inspire him to push aside the pressures of adulthood and to embrace the freedom of the world his imagination creates. As his friendship with Sylvia and her boys grows deeper, so do Barrie’s troubles at home with his own wife. Sylvia pulls away, as does Barrie’s wife Mary and the pressure mounts for Barrie to deliver his next play.
With the exception of a couple of amusing numbers, (“We Own the Night” and a rousing first half closer “Stronger”) most of the first act of FINDING NEVERLAND is rather slow and adult in nature. I brought my son and wondered if he was following along with the adult themes of death and marital strife, or if I had made a mistake in assuming that a story about the making of Peter Pan would be appropriate for kids. Trudging through some of the slowness of the first half pays off just before intermission and I remember to myself the famous words of Peter Pan himself: “The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease for ever to be able to do it.”
John Davidson, playing both the company head Charles Frohman as well as J.M. Barrie imaginative alter ego Captain Hook shines in both of his roles. He is equal parts cunning and funny as Charles Frohman, but as Captain hook, his real charisma and devilish nature steal the show. In a the booming and dramatic “Stronger” Hook pushes Barrie to break free and follow his childish instincts. Davidson and Ray save the first half of the show and leave the audience dying to come back for the conclusion.
The second half of FINDING NEVERLAND opens with a newly inspired and mentally freed Barrie pitching his idea for Peter Pan to the company acting troupe. The reaction from cast comically highlights the struggles of being an adult trying to get into the head of a child. Dwelvan David as the distinguished Mr. Henshaw playing the dog nanny and Matt Wolpe as Mr. Cromer trying to play a young Peter were particularly funny.
As the acting troupe struggles through the challenges of acting like a child, we see the relationship between Sylvia and Barrie grow deeper. A beautiful duet of “What You Mean To Me” is performed on a bare stage with a dramatically beautiful light and shadow effect that is both mesmerizing to watch and beautifully shows the developing love the two have for each other.
With a little faith and trust and pixie dust, the story of Peter Pan is set to open, but Sylvia’s illness inspires a change of plans and the play opening is moved to the Davies’ household. The final scenes are so filled with emotion, and the most magical use of glitter. The beauty of the final scenes erases any shortcomings of the first half. Bring tissues and be prepared to clap when asked of you believe in fairies.
FINDING NEVERLAND, presented by Broadway San Jose and is playing now through April 22nd . Tickets are available at priced from $48 – $128 at www.broadwaysanjose.com or at the box office located at the Center for Performing Arts (255 Almaden Blvd.) or by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787).