“Never act with children or animals,” this quote is attributed to W. C. Fields who was rumored to have a strong dislike for children – unless you are Matthew Morrison (playwright J. M. Barrie) and Kelsey Grammer (American producer Charles Frohman/Captain James Hook) who star in this imaginative and thoroughly entertaining new musical that tells the tale of how Barrie was inspired to write PETER PAN when he meets four young boys and their mum in Kensington Gardens, London 1904.
Morrison and Grammer more than hold their own against the darling Llewelyn Davis children. Not an easy task as the boys are terrific – at the Wednesday matinee performance that was chock full of kids of both genders Christopher Paul Richards (Jack) Sawyer Nunes (George) Alex Dreier (Michael) and Aidan Gemme (a poised and perfect Peter) were wonderful along with their sheepdog Porthos (Jack) that dutifully enters and exits on cue.
Commencing with the appearance of Tinkerbell on the Victorian show curtain (that garners entrance applause) we briefly meet Peter Pan (Melanie Moore) and Mr. Barrie a famous and wealthy playwright who on this particular opening night isn’t so elated. Fearing a flop his producer wants Barrie to come up with something new – but not different.
It takes a couple of songs and scenes to get started. Exposition rearing its necessary head. But once that takes place, it’s full steam ahead when he meets the kids and their mum Sylvia (Laura Michelle Kelly) with the lively and inspirational “Believe” – that sets Barrie’s imagination churning.
Unhappy at home with his pretentious wife Mary (Teal Wicks) and their amusing servants he gravitates more and more toward the ill-fated widow Sylvia and her brood. Her philanthropic and ultra-strict mother Mrs. Du Maurier (Carolee Carmello) strongly disapproves of Mr. Barrie.
Little by little inventive director Diane Paulus with the aid of book writer James Graham add bits and pieces of the PETER PAN story that will culminate in an elaborate and exuberant first act finale that sets the audience a buzz at intermission – a sure sign that the show is going swimmingly.
Mr. Morrison is an excellent and serious Barrie – a Scotsman who learns how to regain his childhood imagination with a fine sense of humor. Mr. Grammer has the meatier roles and he chomps at it with abandon – especially as Hook. He is a first rate comic with impeccable timing and the two of them are perfect together.
The backstage scenes are done in the style of the period. Overboard and melodramatic and are very funny. Especially Paul Slade Smith as Mr. Henshaw who gets to play the dog and Josh Lamon Mr. Cromer who is an unlikely Michael with his teddy bear.
There is a spectacular sequence in Act II that is breathtaking – quite literally that I hope you will go witness firsthand at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre West 46th Street.
FINDING NEVERLAND is a lovely musical (some songs by Gary Barlow & Eliot Kennedy are standouts especially the haunting “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground”) that is full of warm hearted humor and emotions that bring on the tears. It’s for the entire family. The children will love it and the adults might be inspired to rekindle something that they may have lost by growing up. Something that Peter Pan refused to do.
Photos: Carol Rosegg
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