Mike Woody says ‘Finding Neverland’ is a flawless production that should not be missed.
Unless someday I meet Peter Pan the time will come when I grow old(er), so while I won’t remain forever young, I will never forget seeing ‘Finding Neverland.’ All musicals, or almost every musical, is highly enjoyable, a few are absolutely exceptional and provides an everlasting memory of pleasure. Maybe, just maybe Mary Poppins flies down from Neverland, because this story about how J.M Barrie created the ideas in Peter Pan is practically perfect in every way. ‘Finding Neverland’ is a flawless production that should not be missed.
The perfection starts with the cast, led by Jeff Sullivan as Barrie. Sullivan gives a masterful performance as the playwright desperate for a hit. If Sullivan’s singing voice could be transcribed into a book, it would be a story more magical than anything written by J.K Rowling. Sullivan makes certain to cross every t and dot every i as every aspect of his portrayal is deserving of an A+ grade.
The wheels of creativity, and perhaps romance too, starts to spin win Barrie meets Sylvia (Ruby Gibbs), a widow with four young boys. It’s no wonder, as Gibbs radiates a charm bright enough to turn the arms on a sundial at night. Her motherly instincts are endearing and Gibbs’ voice is fittingly one that fairytales are made of. The parts of Sylvia’s four sons are rotated, on the night I attended, Peter was played by Ethan Stokes. Stokes, like each of the boys, possesses a talent level way beyond his years. From cute childlike antics, even at a fancy dinner party, to heart wrenching drama the boys expertly portray every emotion. Furthermore, for a rendition of ‘We’re All Made of Stars,’ the boys form a boy’s band that I would actually go see in concert. I would not say that of NSYNC or any others. Also, keep an eye out for Peter’s green suit. It’s a nice touch.
A real standout performance is given by the main antagonist, Conor McGiffin as Charles Frohman, the producer. McGiffin has a stage presence that really hooks you. I’d consider Frohman a bit of a crooked character, but McGiffin himself is straight-up talented. As if I didn’t spell it out (literally) enough already, McGiffin also doubles as Captain Hook, in some dreamlike sequences. If the Pirates of the Caribbean ever becomes a musical, McGiffin is ready to be Captain Jack Sparrow.
With a sharp bite and slithery movements Mrs. du Maurier is dangerous, and Emmanuelle Zeesman makes a real splash in her portrayal of her. Though brief, Michael Luongo’s appearance as Lord Cannan is really hair raising and tops off the dinner party scene.
There are several little technical touches throughout ‘Finding Neverland’ that the production crew deserves credit for. All the small touches plays a part in having such a perfect finished product. For instance, the lighting in the scene where Barrie and Sylvia sing ‘What You Mean to Me,’ leaves no shadow of a doubt there’s an attraction between the two. The lighting also brilliantly highlights the hook of Frohman’s umbrella as he’s being villainous. We are all also made to feel Barrie spinning out of control due to all the elements used during ‘The World Is Upside Down.’
Warning, and trust me, men this may go for you too…bring along some Kleenex, or at least a masculine handkerchief. As all of a sudden there’s an emotional blow that lands hard. The heart wrenching scene concludes with a moving song by Barrie and Peter, ‘When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground.’ Some tears may also flow, not just from sorrow, but also from the pure theatrical beauty of a closing scene. While witnessing it, and wondering how it’s done, I thought to myself…best ending ever! (Also thinking, where’s my masculine handkerchief?) I’m not over exaggerating it’s the definition of excellence. Would have been a perfect ending, but the standing ovation must wait, as there’s still a little more greatness to come.
Honestly, ‘Peter Pan’ has never been a favorite of mine so I wasn’t overly enthused about this show. I should have been and am now. On the other hand, my wife had high expectations and they were exceeded. It’s the best theatrical experience we’ve had in recent memory. We enjoy all the shows, but have already forgotten last years…in January of 2060 I will still remember having seen “Forever Neverland.” It’s that good.
Finding Neverland is at The Schuster through this Sunday, January 20.
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.