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[Gig Review] Finding Neverland @ Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, New York - February 2016

The Bard Babe

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Finding Neverland. I’m sure plenty of you know the film version of this story. For those of you who haven’t, Finding Neverland is the story of the real life events surrounding JM Barrie’s writing of Peter Pan-the woman, the children, and the theatre manager and the cast all play their part. If you’re like me and are utterly enchanted by Peter Pan like I am, then you will love this musical. It’s tone is very much the same-very fantastical, very sweet, very magical. Definitely go and see this if you are able! If you're interested, there are plenty of rehearsal clips on youtube.




The show was a lot more upbeat than you’d expect if you were basing your knowledge only on the film. Having said that, I spent the entire second act crying, but they were good tears. I already have good memories associated with this story because of reading Peter Pan (in the pit during/between performances of Phantom) and the tale of JM Barrie in the back of the book. It was a beautiful thing to see brought to the stage.


And I mean that word choice: beautiful. So much of what was done with this show was simply that. In particular, the lighting choices are what are leaping to my mind. There is a number sung around an on-stage ghostlight, turning the two actors singing this gorgeous love song into silhouettes and shadows dancing across the back of the stage.


In a death scene towards the end, there is a gradually dimming light down to a soft spot centrestage (soft lighting for spotlights make me melt into a puddle of emotions), just this warm, yellow light, with a handful of pixie dust and the character’s scarf released and suspended, (by wind machines-I’ll talk more about them later) as her music and her voice fade from the theatre. The glitter catches the light and scatters it, the scarf gently twisting and turning, afloat in this sea of warmth and pinpricks of lights. At this point, everyone in the theatre was crying, but I started crying at the start of the second act and barely stopped the whole way through.




Then of course, there is Tinkerbell. But for that, I’ll take you through the show as I saw it. I’m trying hard not to simply list all of my favourites moments of my show out of order, but I’m already failing, so let’s try and introduce a bit of order from here on in.


This was the second show I saw in my week of theatre-madness, and this time I had a bit of a posse, as a lot of the people who were living with me at the time came along. We saw it in the first place because I saw the banners on the Lunt-Fontanne on our walk through Times Square, mentioned some fact or other about the show, and was immediately drowned out by my friend’s squeals as she remembered who the female lead in the show is: Laura Michelle Kelly.


The male lead, of course, is Matthew Morrison of Glee fame, as well as a cast of small boys for the children, Kelsey Grammar as Hook and his real life theatre manager double, and a gorgeous, big, old dog as Nanna  (the dog got to stage door as well).


And of course, I’d heard many wonderful things about the show, so we went home and bought tickets that night. Boy, am I glad we did.




This show made me happy in a childishly gleeful kind of way. I loved every show I saw for very different reasons. Hamilton because it was clever, because it’s so massive at the moment, because it’s an experience. Something Rotten because it’s a spectacle, because it’s a comedy, because it’s light-hearted and joyous. Finding Neverland was uplifting. It made me feel all sorts of sadness, loss, weakness, it made me feel trapped and lost and yearn to comfort those on stage in turn with every new song, but at the same time, I felt safe. I felt uplifted. I knew it would turn out alright in the end. I knew that while everything would never be perfect, could never be perfect, that the characters would come out of it just fine. There was hope, and beauty, and imagination in every song, and that style, the direction of the show made it feel like a bedtime story. It was safe for me to feel all those terrible things because I was warm and happy in my little theatre seat up in the back of the stalls, and this show more than any other, seemed like I was being told a story.


The likely reason for this was the proliferation of magic, and fairies, and the massive importance placed on childish glee and imagination throughout the whole story.




We found our seats in the theatre-the Lunt Fontanne is gorgeous inside, quite possibly the prettiest of the ones I saw on my trip-and we found out that we had missed Kelsey Grammar’s run, which was a bit sad, but that we had both of the leads, so that made up for that. As the house lights went down, we noticed a light flashing by the curtain. As more people noticed it, the light flew up to the opposite side of the stage. It was a bright, yellow pinprick of a light, and as we watched, it flashed all the way around the theatre, dancing on and off the stage, until the curtains opened on a dim stage of a park bench and a streetlight, and it was caught by our Peter Pan-a giggling, ballet dancing girl who was promptly told by Matthew Morrison’s middling Scottish accent that she ought not to be there.


They launched right into the story after a little prologue, and I immediately decided that I had to buy the cast recording. I still haven’t done that, but I’ve been listening to it non-stop on Spotify. By the end of the first number, I’d had amazing choreography, a solid chorus harmony hit (I love these moments-I’ll probably mention the big ones in each of my reviews), an epic lady belting massive notes directly into the audience, a good laugh, and all the feels. The mood, the tone, the theme, that safety net of storytelling, they’re all set up in the first number.


Ok, now I can rant about my favourite bits. Yes, the choreography, particularly in the first number ‘All of London Is Here Tonight’ and in a number later on where the characters are all at a dinner party, and they use the big old table and its floor length tablecloth, sticking heads and feet and small children out from underneath it in a mean feat of coordination. Everyone in this show has to remarkably athletic-including the leads, which is always exciting. There's a lot of leaping over benches, being throw upside down, hanging from and climbing up and down rigging.




The music in this show is fantastic. It’s always energetic, and provides the perfect setting for the big numbers-probably my favourite choreo of the trip-and the smaller ones, moving between bouncy and boppy, and tender and almost unbearably sweet in turns.


But possibly my favourite aspect of the show was that they had an illusionist on the creative team. You could tell. There was a scene with Matthew Morrison’s floating head going up and down the full height of the curtains, the tinkerbell light, which was amazing and beautiful, the wind machines that held up the scarf at the end. So many things.


Set design! There isn’t too much to say for this-the backdrops were the most impressive part of the sets, because they showed full streets and gorgeous paintings for scenes. As I said, the lighting was the most effective part of this-really clever use of onstage lights. One set that was amazing though, was Hook’s ship in ‘Stronger’, the act one finale. Act one finales are always amazing, but this one was fantastic. As per usual, it stuck the lead centrestage belting the crap out of an awesome power ballad, but the chorus lines there were pirates on the ship, swinging from rigging and heaving in time with all the crashing of the music and the violence of the wind machines, and the ship was built on stage as you watched the number unfold, the ship coming together as JM Barrie goes through his epic piece of character development.




That’s a fair note-this is definitely a character piece, rather than a plot piece. The plot of the story is straight forward and lovely, but most people already know it, and the focus is definitely on the theme, and on the characters. The relationship between Barrie and Peter, the young boy Peter Pan was named after, is unspeakably tender, and you get to see dozens of different relationships play out on stage.  


You do get the panto within the play, which is hilarious. This is another show that I highly recommend listening the cast recording of. Particularly the tracks ‘Play’, ‘Circus of Your Mind’, ‘Believe’, ‘Stronger’, and ‘When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground’. That’s still a big list. Ah, ‘Play’, ‘Believe’, and ‘Stronger’ are probably the top three to listen to without seeing it.




Ok, one last thing, and then I’ll leave you alone. There’s one moment in the show, during the panto within the play, near the end of the second act, where I’m already weeping from the rest of the second act, and then this beautiful moment appears. I hope you’re all familiar with the phrase ‘clap if you believe’. I’ve always loved that line. I’ve always been the first to move when it’s said, the first to use it for casual references in conversation.


The little boy who Peter is based off is narrating the story to his sick mother, and Tinkerbell starts to fade. You’ve had this little cheeky light through the whole show, and you can hear this little boy’s voice starting to go, but then Matthew Morrison asks him if he believes. He delivers that beautiful line, and slowly, each member of the cast starts clapping, faster until the clapping tumbles into a thunderous applause as the entire audience joins in, making the loudest noise I heard from a crowd anywhere but the Hamilton bows. It was the most beautiful of beautiful moments. I still cry when I hear that moment on the cast recording-and it is in there if you want to hear it for yourself, but nothing can compare to that feeling of sitting in an audience, surrounded by people who are clapping madly for this one perfect moment of childish belief, that for one moment, as long as it lasts, it’s an entire theatre joined together to let their joy, their belief, their imagination win out for just a second.


That’s everything I strive to provoke as a performer, and to experience it on that scale, in such perfect circumstances, is something I will never forget. Even if I didn’t love the production as much as I do, I would go and see it again just for that one frozen moment of communal joy and abandon. That truly was magical.





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I think this Broadway is coming to San Francisco soon. I want to go see this. I love the story of Peter Pan and Neverland. Thanks for the review BB. I love Broadway musicals and want to see Wicked when it comes to town.

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Definitely go and see it!   :) you'll thank yourself for it later. 


I manage to keep missing Wicked! Whenever it's in Australia, it either doesn't come to my city, or I can't afford it. Then I've been to West End, and now to Broadway and elected to see other shows that I know it's highly unlikely will ever come to Australia rather than Wicked, which is playing everywhere, all the time. One day!

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Yeah, we only have one professional theatre in our city, and it doesn't get that much stuff. We had Lion King a couple of years back, and we had Wicked for a few months, and Les Mis for a little while, and we've got CATS at the moment, so we've been doing well for big shows, but nothing new for a long time, and but the productions are always a little shoddy compared to the big ones, usually replicas of movie versions with pop singers in lead roles to draw crowds-even if they don't really act or dance, or have a musical theatre voice...*grumbles about Delta Goodrem playing Grizabella in CATS* Most of the awesome shows go to Melbourne, and Sydney, and ignore the rest of the country XD Matilda and Book of Mormon...*sigh*


Yeah, but it always worth seeing a show as soon as one comes within a reasonable distance, haha.

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