“Finding Neverland” a jaw-dropping experience

American Repertory Theater musical sprinkles fairy dust on story about creator of “Peter Pan”


Raider Times photo / Evgenia Eliseeva

Peter Pan (Melanie Moore) and Wendy (Emma Pfaeffle) share a kiss in the production of the musical “Finding Neverland” at the A.R.T. in Cambridge.

Kira Peterson, Raider Times staff

For those of you who think you’re too grown up to see a musical about Peter Pan, this is not a musical about Peter Pan.

The main character in “Finding Neverland” is J.M. Barrie (played by Jeremy Jordan), author of the original Peter Pan play. The plot is based on real events from Mr. Barrie’s life, and the characters are based on real people. Because of this, “Finding Neverland” in no way immerses you in a fantasy world. Though it is very playful and certainly appropriate for children, there is a bit of adult humor sprinkled in, and at times the musical even takes a turn toward tragic tearjerker.

Set in London at the turn of the 20th century, the show opens with J.M. Barrie being berated by his boss for not producing any new material. Mr. Barrie is sitting on a park bench, despairing over his awful case of writer’s block, when four young boys run by him playing an imaginative game. He joins in, grateful for a way to relax. Their mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (played by Laura Michelle Kelly), catches up to her sons and introduces herself. She and Mr. Barrie get along very well, and she invites him to visit them any time he pleases.

The Llewelyn Davies boys together. (Alex Dreier, Aidan Gemme, Sawyer Nunes, Hayden Signoretti) in "Finding Neverland" at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.
Evgenia Eliseeva
The Llewelyn Davies boys together. (Alex Dreier, Aidan Gemme, Sawyer Nunes, Hayden Signoretti) in “Finding Neverland” at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge.

Mr. Barrie begins to spend less time with his wife, and more time running around the Llewelyn Davies family’s backyard playing pretend with his young new friends. The boys provide him with a creative outlet free from judgment, and this gets him to get writing again. Soon he has completed a play about a boy who refuses to grow up, “Peter Pan”. Though the character Peter Pan represents Barrie himself, he names him after Peter Llewelyn Davies, one of Sylvia’s sons who aspires to become a writer.

Though his play turns out to be a huge success, problems arise with Mr. Barrie’s wife and Sylvia.

At times the plot was slightly disappointing, which can probably be attributed to the playwright’s attempt to keep the musical historically accurate. For example, there is a noticeable lack of romance in what seems like a potentially very romantic relationship, between Barrie and Sylvia, which although probably realistic, fell short of what the audience was surely wishing for the two characters.

The music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy were absolutely delightful. In addition to being very well written, the songs were delivered stunningly by the cast. “What You Mean To Me”, a duet sung by Jeremy Jordan and Laura Michelle Kelly, was truly excellent. “We’re All Made Of Stars” sung by the Llewelyn Davies boys was also notably wonderful. Unfortunately, it was the only musical number in the show that took full advantage of the potential these characters had to do some adorable four-part harmonies. The child actors who played the parts of George, Michael, Peter, and Jack were flawless and hilarious. If it’s humanly possible to steal the spotlight from Jeremy Jordan, these four adorable and talented boys certainly did.

It is clear that this show is the final product of the extremely hard work of many ferociously talented people. There was not a second of boring choreography, and the dancers brought amazing energy to the stage. The vibrant sets and special effects will have your jaw dropping again and again throughout the show.

This show would be the perfect entertainment for a family outing; imaginative theatergoers of all ages will certainly not be disappointed. “Finding Neverland” is a musical truly fit for Broadway, and I wish the cast a very long run.

(“Finding Neverland” at the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge through Sept. 28, 2014. For information and tickets, go to http://americanrepertorytheater.org/events/show/finding-neverland)

–Aug. 15, 2014–