“Finding Neverland” takes to the Orpheum stage in downtown Minneapolis Oct. 31-Nov. 5
Photos by Jeremy Daniel
By Claire Noack
Hennepin Theatre Trust‘s latest Broadway musical brings audiences insight into one of their favorite childhood movies, “Peter Pan.” The play, which opened Halloween night at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Minneapolis, will run through Nov. 5, giving people a limited window to experience the magical story. Based on the true life of author J.M. Barrie (played by Billy Harrigan Tighe), “Finding Neverland” tells the tale of a playwright who is stuck in a creative rut and finds a renewed sense of inspiration through childhood antics with four local boys and their widowed mother, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Lael Van Keuren).
Set in London in the early 1900s, the show reveals some of the risks Barrie took to get his vision of Peter Pan on stage. During a time where children were supposed to be “seen but not heard,” a play about a boy filled with outward creativity, wonder and spirit was sure to rock the boat. Barrie not only pushes his own creative vision forward on the stage, but he takes it to the real world by spurring on the boys' imaginations with games and the belief in the impossible—with a little help from the spritely Tinkerbell.
Combining humor and turmoil, “Finding Neverland” juxtaposes dramatic songs where Barrie faces his own demons personified as Captain Hook and lighthearted tunes with the boys in back to back scenes. Some of the best musical numbers happened “inside” Barrie's head, where the story of Peter Pan was coming to life piece by piece with the building of the captain's ship in “Stronger” and the freedom of the lost boys in “We Own the Night.” While the contrast is jarring, the show aptly puts into words and actions the joys and dangers of imagination. With Barrie's imagination, he can inspire the boys to fully live their childhood, yet with that same imagination, he can neglect the relationships and responsibilities that need a more mature point of view.
As the song list went on, some melodies were more European pop than Broadway classics, a deliberate choice by director Diane Paulus, who was also the creative force behind Sara Bareilles' singer-songwriter Broadway hit “Waitress” (coming to the Orpheum Theatre Nov. 21-26). While you still get the big theatrical numbers, it makes you wonder if this is the new movement in Broadway theater.
Overall, the story mixed hardship and childlike innocence with moments of true magic. With a mischievous Peter Pan flying above the cast in the closing scene, it's hard not to leave the theater without a smile on your face and the thought that there is still faith, trust and a little bit of pixie dust left in the world.