By Ward Morehouse III
When the shutters opened in the Darling London house I half-expected Mary Martin to come sailing through singing “I’ve Got to Crow,” one of the hit songs from the1954 Broadway musical Peter Pan starring the late Miss Martin. But as tuneful and joyful as the songs were in this musical they pale to “When Your Feet Don’t Touch The Ground,” “Neverland” and “We’re All Made of Stars,” with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Elliot Kennedy.
Finding Neverland just may be the best musical I’ve seen in years: best acted, best sung and best danced. Little wonder that Barlow has 15 number 1 UK singles to his credit and Kennedy has has written hits for Aretha Franklin, Celine Dion and the Spice Girls. Finding Neverland is also directed to perfection by Diane Paulus, Artistic Director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard University.
Matthew Morrison is brilliant as playwright J. M. Barrie whose character is cross between shy and self-effacing poet and daring man-of-letters. Kelsey Grammer, in the duel role of Captain Hook and producer Charles Frohman strikes just the right balance between the kind of comic genius we’ve seen in Cheers and straight-laced, budget-minded producer Frohman. In 1906, Frohman risked money and reputation to bring Peter Pan to Broadway. Laura Michelle Kelly, as Barrie’s muse Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, and Carolee Carmello as Mrs. Du Maurier are both highly-effective and sincerely heartfelt. Teal Wicks, as Mary Barrie, dreamer J.M. Barrie’s unsympathetic wife, brilliantly succeeds in being appealing despite her carping. And she has a knockout singing voice. And everyone of the children in Neverland bring incredible zest and talent to their roles. Melanie Moore as the character Peter Pan is both fun and knows how to fly quite well indeed! The cast also features Alex Dreier, Aidan Gemme, Jackson DeMott Hill, Noah Hinsdale, Sawyer Nunes, Chris Richards, Hayden Signoretti with Courtney Balan, Dana Costello, Colin Cunliffe, Rory Donovan, Chris Dwan, Kevin Kern, Josh Lamon, Mary Page Nance, Fred Odgaard, Emma Pfaeffle, Jonathan Ritter, Tyley Ross, Julius Anthony Rubio, Paul Slade Smith, Ron Todorowski, Jaime Verazin and Jessica Vosk.
It was 110 years ago that Charles Frohman produced of Peter of the tree tops and Never-Never Land at Broadway’s old Empire Theater starring the great Maude Adams. And playgoers from 6 to 60 “came swarming into the theater,” my late father, Ward Morehouse, writes in his book Matinee Tomorrow a one-volume history of the American theater. Adams herself was a large part of the play’s allure. She “had something of a spiritual quality that made her appeal universal,” my father continued in the book. “The rippling laugh, the lilting voice, the odd toss of her head – these were attributes that endeared her to playgoers.” It was also her generosity that endeared her, especially to children. When a little girl who had saved her pennies for what she thought was the 50 cent ticket price found out it was $1 Miss Adams not only paid the difference for her but ordered that all tickets for that performance be sold for 50 cents.
As a very young boy, I saw Mary Martin playing Peter in the 1954 Jule Stein-Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical adaptation of the play and my father and I visited Miss Martin in her dressing room after the show. She gave me some “fairy dust,” and for many minutes I tried using it to fly off my family’s living room couch. It failed to do the trick.
Based on the Academy Award-winning Miramax motion picture by David Magee, and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee, Finding Neverland follows the relationship between playwright J. M. Barrie and the family that inspired Peter Pan. Directed by Tony®-winner Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair)with book by Olivier Award®-nominee James Graham, music and lyrics by Gary Barlow (Take That) and Grammy Award®-winner Eliot Kennedy, choreography by Emmy Award®-winner Mia Michaels (“So You Think You Can Dance,” Cirque du Soleil’s Delirium). Scenic design is by Tony Award®-winner Scott Pask (Pippin, Book of Mormon), lighting design by Tony Award®-winner Kenneth Posner (The Coast of Utopia, Pippin), costume design by Suttirat Larlarb (Of Mice and Men), and sound design by Tony Award®-nominee Jonathan Deans (Pippin, La Cage aux Folles).
Finding Neverland is produced by Harvey Weinstein and Weinstein Live Entertainment, The Madison Square Garden Company, Len Blavatnik, Ron Burkle, Radenko Milakovic and Bryan Cranston in association with Jason Blum, Broadway Across America, Stephen Bronfman, Rodgin Cohen, Michael Cohl, Jean Doumanian, Chad Dubea, Rick Gerson, Jeremiah J. Harris, Sh. Mohammed Y. El Khereiji, Terry Allen Kramer, Howard Milstein, Dalip Pathak, Steve Rattner, Jimmy Sommers, Peter Stavola, Marvin Peart, and The American Repertory Theater. The production is Executive Produced by Alecia Parker, Barry Weissler and Victoria Parker.