SCHENECTADY One day someone might ask you if you ever saw the musical “Finding Neverland.” Your answer might be, ‘I don’t recall.’ It’s one of those musicals that are as uninspiring as it is pleasant.
Which is OK. Pleasant is good. But for a story that attempts to explain how J. M. Barrie came to create the magical story of “Peter Pan” you expect a little more, well…. magic. This is a show that encourages the mind to wander. As mine wandered, with regularity, I wondered how younger audiences would respond to the material. Disappointed as well, I would think.
To be fair, the production which continues at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady does have several numbers that offer visual magic and the show is never less than good – and sometimes it’s very good. But the effort rarely sustains itself. Probably because those fun numbers seem manufactured. It feels like when a lively ensemble number pops up it’s because someone said it’s getting dull, let’s liven it up.
Even the sentimentality – which overflows throughout the production –appears forced and manipulative. This production, though reworked since Broadway, gives every indication it was formed by committee and forged through compromise.
Nonetheless, there are a lot of things to like about the show. First of all, is the cast. Billie Harrigan Tighe is a charming Barrie, as he permits the rather passive character to seem sincere and trustworthy. He is always at ease and seems to genuinely bond with four children with whom he meets and plays with in the park. Not only do they give him respite from the pressures of being a successful playwright, the playful interludes free his inner child and release his creativity.
Those same qualities draw Sylvia, their widowed mother, to Barrie. Played by Lael Van Keuren, the sickly Sylvia is a lovely and loveable woman who helps Barrie to find a reason to live, just as the children give him the opportunity to once again live inside his imagination.
A problem with their love is that because Barrie is married, their love must remain platonic. The actors are so good at creating decent characters – we believe it. Another asset both bring to the production is an ability to make forgettable songs seem beautiful.
Unfortunately, the script gives these two fine actors little to work with. The emotions in the show rarely seem honest. More often they appear manipulative and melodramatic. When Sylvia coughs in the middle of the second act you know she won’t be around by play’s end.
But as compensation, she gets one of the best exits on Broadway. In a show where little is memorable her going off to heaven among glitter and clouds rightfully draws admiring applause from the audience. Indeed, the entire show is easy to look at, the sets are attractive and the rear projections are beautiful.
The supporting cast is excellent. John Davidson shows exquisite comic timing in the dual roles of Barrie’s American producer Charles Frohman and Captain Hook. The children are terrific and the ensemble brings the show to life – especially in the closing scene of the first act. This is one of the few moments director Diane Paulus finds the style that made her revival of “Pippen” so memorable.
But sad to say, “Finding Neverland” is not that kind of memorable show.
“Finding Neverland” continues at Proctors Theatre in Schenectady through Sunday. Tickets and schedule information at 518-346-6204, proctors.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.