‘Finding Neverland’ is rich in familiarity and imagination

Christine Dwyer as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in Finding Neverland.
Photo: Carol Rosegg / Courtesy
Jacob Coakley

Thanks to Downton Abbey, our imagination casts the Edwardian era as a simpler time. Strict rules, murderous urges, not a lot of fun, secret crushes on mother figures with a complete inability to actually discuss sex—it’s like elementary school. No wonder one of the era’s most enduring stories—Peter Pan—is about a boy who never grew up.

Finding Neverland, the next musical to swing into the Smith Center, takes the conceit and runs with it. Based on Allan Knee’s book, The Man Who Was Peter Pan—and the subsequent film adaptation Finding Neverland, starring Johnny Depp—the musical is a loose origin story for the story of Pan, pitting playwright J.M. Barrie against the strictures and rules of Edwardian England. Barrie befriends a single mother and her four young boys and finds in their imagination the key to creating a wonderland—but it’s not until he unlocks his id, unleashing Captain Hook, that things really take off.

The show, with music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and a book by James Graham, is full of songs that want to soar as they extol the virtues of imagination, rule breaking and, of course, pirates. All the familiar characters are here—and reveling in their familiarity and seeing them anew is part of the fun.

The production is directed by Diane Paulus—the visionary behind Pippin from a couple years back—and it doesn’t stint on bringing Edwardian luxury alive. Producer Harvey Weinstein opened his pocketbook to finance this production, and it shows, with costumes so lush they fairly drip and set pieces as rich as imagination.

Imagination is what this all comes down to in the end. If you believe in theater magic—and the invigorating power of make believe (not mention the ability of applause to keep fairies alive)—it’s time to take another trip to Neverland, one like never before.

Finding Neverland February 14-19, times vary, $29-$127. Reynolds Hall, 702-749-2000.

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