By Morgan Politzer
Based on the 2004 film, Finding Neverland began its first national tour since opening on Broadway in 2014. Directed by Diane Paulus, Finding Neverland is a touching reminder there’s a child inside us all, and that we are never too old to grow up.
The musical is a journey through the imagination of J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe), the original creator of Peter Pan, as he struggles to write a play for his American producer (John Davidson) in an attempt to redeem his reputation after his last failure.
While wandering through Kensington Gardens, Barrie contemplates his failing marriage and wrestles with his sense of identity. His existential crisis is interrupted by the Llewelyn Davies children, George, Peter, Jack and Michael (in this performance, Colin Wheeler, Connor Jameson Casey, Turner Birthisel, Tyler Patrick Hennessy), and their beautiful widowed mother Sylvia (Christine Dwyer) as they play in the garden.
Barrie takes a liking to the four young boys and joins in their games of make-believe and far off places. Although their friendship is unconventional, Barrie is quickly welcomed into the Davies’ home. However, like much of the rest of the town, Sylvia’s mother Mrs. du Maurier (Karen Murphy) is skeptical of the growing friendship between Barrie and Sylvia as whispers of gossip and impropriety swirl.
As Barrie spends more time with the children and their games, he sees himself in Peter, who is convinced he is too old for fun. In trying to remind Peter of the importance of staying young at heart, Barrie begins his own journey of self-discovery. Together, they must learn to become young again and travel back to their imagination, this time refusing to grow up.
While playing with the children, ideas for Barrie’s new play begin to fall into place. Hints of his inspiration were highlighted as each of the Davies children’s adventures could be found within the story of Peter Pan. Moments from the characters’ lives come together to form the eventual play Barrie would write for his impatient producer, explaining subjects such as why a thimble is really a kiss to why Captain Hook is followed by the incessant ticking of a clock.
The musical leaves the audience craving more as it breaks for intermission at the end of the first act. Running out of time to write his play and convinced he is hurting the Davies’ family, Barrie gets lost in the “Circus of [His] Mind” and begins hallucinating. Captain Hook appears as a representation of Barrie’s own consciousness, dragging him abroad the looming Jolly Roger.
The show begins to shift from a witty fun plot to include self-realization and determination. As time and deadlines begin to spin faster around Barrie, the scene behind him becomes a projection on the back wall, creating depth and movement, shifting as fast as his subconscious.
It was here tthe tears began and I felt the show in my heart and soul. The acoustics and sound came from all sides of the theater until I suddenly found myself trapped in the mind of J.M. Barrie, inside his head in a way that was so much more than just watching a talented actor on stage.
Lost in his creativity, as his ideas went round and round like clockwork, a steady tick-tock filled the room. The true magic of theater had become raw and tangible. The projection on the stage grew larger and larger as the waves began to crest and swell until the rigging of the Jolly Roger rose higher and higher, leaving the stormy sea far below. As thunder rumbled and clocks ticked, I felt it in my chest as the Jolly Roger ascended into the clouds for the first time.
It is not until the second act that we see the “play” Barrie created. The stage becomes a show within a show as the familiar story of Peter Pan unfolds. As Sylvia’s health deteriorates, she relies on the imagination and make-believe of Barrie and her four children, and encourages them to live life to the fullest.
There are plenty of moments of sadness and sorrow throughout the show, but I think our ability to move on from them is what makes this show unique. We are encouraged not to dwell on what we have lost, but rather to remain optimistic for the future.
Neverland is Barrie’s personification of Heaven, after he imagined his late brother in a place where he never ages and can live free of worry. Sylvia’s entrance to Neverland with Peter Pan is her message of hope and a reminder that pain and suffering is only temporary.
We are reminded that the trust, love and imagination of children is a type of magic all its own.
They have always been the heart and soul of the story of Peter Pan, and while Birthisel, Casey, Hennessy and Wheeler are charming with their perfectly practiced British accents, the idea of what they represent is more important. They brought out the fun in Barrie he thought he lost and reintroduced him to his imagination. They reminded us that we are never too old to have fun, if only we allow ourselves to have a little faith, trust and pixie dust.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jeremy Daniel.
Morgan Politzer is a freshman journalism major and can be reached a firstname.lastname@example.org.