Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
It all begins when Barrie (the excellent Billy Harrigan Tighe) meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (a sweet-voiced Christine Dwyer) and subsequently gets to know her four children. Barrie happens to be married, while Sylvia is a widow, and a woman who eventually becomes terribly ill. Barrie has been having a tough time writing and is prodded forward by producer-type Charles Frohman (John Davidson), who wants Barrie to put a bad guy into a new script. Meanwhile, Barrie's marriage to Mary (Kristine Reese) is far from fulfilling. He loves playing around with Sylvia's kids, who cavort and eventually sing most tunefully. Barrie sees himself in the role of surrogate father, and it fits. The young boys (too many possibles listed in the program to ascertain specifics) always lift the production.
Early numbers which succeed include "My Imagination," a solo by Tighe, and "All That Matters," rendered by Dwyer. The two lead actors combine on a lovely duet, "Neverland," in the middle of the first act. "Circus of Your Mind" is performed by various actors in four successive parts. It is actually Captain James Hook (John Davidson in another role), who insists that Barrie must delve into his darker side to produce work which will triumph.
Finding Neverland, before intermission, benefits from engaging storytelling as the writing team, in lively fashion, educates all with pertinent information. It's the turn of the twentieth century in London and the instant mutual attraction, the romance experienced by James Barrie and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, seems ardently genuine. Say this: the narrative is mature and the many younger children who attend hoping for Peter Pan must wait quite some time for glimpses of that classic.
Finally, though, the land of make-believe is experiencedamong glitter and/or pixie dust, complete with a real shaggy, large dog and some characters charmingly familiar. Yes, too, for those curious about a Tinkerbell sighting. Scenic designer Scott Pask, costumer Suttirat Anne Larlarb, and the many individuals who collaborate to provide enlivening production elements help to accelerate the overall show. If anything, however, the second act is more predictably schmaltzy and, if Broadway-like, not at all surprising. The beginnings of Finding Neverland are more distinctive. The dimensions, early on, include sadness and difficulty; lives are not all about instantaneous joy.
The tour boasts warmly affecting performances by leads Tighe and Dwyer. Davidson, in what might be plum supporting actor opportunities, is fine but lacks edge or bitenaturals for both of his characters. The Llewelyn children boost the proceedings as they sing and cavort during latter moments. Paulus is faced with the challenge of incorporating a substantial amount of material into two and one half hours while keeping the production on a forward track. The production never drags and is, in the end, a bit magical.
Finding Neverland continues at the Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut through August 6th, 2017. For tickets, call (860) 987-5900 or visit bushnell.org. For more information on the tour, visit findingneverlandthemusical.com.