Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CT Theater Review: Finding Neverland -- The Bushnell

Christine Dwyer . Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Finding Neverland
Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Book by James Graham, based on the movie "Finding Neverland" by David Magee, and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee
Directed by Diane Paulus
Choreography by Mia Michaels
The Bushnell
Through Aug. 6

By Lauren Yarger

What's It All about?
James Graham's version of the story behind Peter Pan, based on the movie "Finding Neverland" by David Magee, and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee, with Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. It's a moving tale of J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe), a playwright who resists the idea of being a grown up in a world with his socialite wife, Mary (Kristine Reese) and demanding producer Charles Frohman (an affable John Davidson who provides mouch of the evening's comic relief) until he meets widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Christine Dwyer) and her sons (played in shared roles): George (Connor Jameson Casey; Bergman Freedman; Colin Wheeler). Jack (Birthisel,Casey; Cirbus;Freedman;Tyler Patrick Hennessy), Michael (Birthisel; Cirbus; Hennessey) and Peter (Turner Birthisel; Casey; Wyatt Cirbus; Freedman; Colin Wheeler), who hasn't been coping well with his father's death and has lost the urge to play like little boys should.

Barrie lets his inner child have fun with the boys and they imagine all sorts of adventures. The stories become the basis for a play where a boy who refuses to grow up searches for his shadow. meets Wendy and some other boys on adventures to Neverland.  Frohman is skeptical, but even the inspiration for Captain Hook can't deny the appeal of the fantasy when it charms audiences world wide.. 

What are the Highlights?
It's an heart-warming story based in facts that most of us don't know. The Music and Lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy are memorable with several songs providing hummable tunes that stay with you long after seeing the show. Ryan Cantwell music directs with dance and vocal arrangements by David Chase and Vocal Design by AnneMarie Millazo.

Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin) works her usual directorial magic to combine the story with parts of Barrie's imagination coming to life around him on stage. The creative team contributes imaginative ways to incorporate special effects and the best fairy dust you'll ever see. Kudos to Lighting Designer Kenneth Posner, Projection Designer Jon Driscoll, Illusions by Paul Klieve, Flying Effects by Production Resource Group, ') and Air Sculpting by Daniel Wurtzel. Choreographer Mia Michaels uses subtle moves to bring the ensemble into the spotlight as well.

Tighe brings a solid tenor to the role. Connecticut's own animal trainer Bill Berloni provides the dog who steals its scenes. The kids are cute and have a moment to shine in a homey musical number that has them playing some musical instruments including a washboard.

Overall, an impressive touring rendition of the moving, satisfying Broadway show.

What Are the Lowlights?
Sound sound problems (Design by Jonathan Deans), particularly in hearing some of the kids and Dwyer, who appears to struggle a bit with some of the range of her songs. On the other hand, Karen Murphy, who plays to boy's overbearing grandmother, Mrs. DuMarier, needs to tone down an over-the-top yell that dominates most of her line delivery.

More Information:
Finding Neverland flies at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford, through Aug. 6. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm.; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. bushnell.org; 860-987-5900.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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