Reviewed on Wednesday 30th March 2016 (matinee)
Inspired by Allan Knee's play The Man Who Was Peter Pan and the 2004 film, Finding Neverland began its life in the UK at the Leicester Curve four years ago. However, producer Harvey Weinstein was unhappy with the production so fired most the creative team and started afresh. A new version of the show - by UK pop star Gary Barlow, Eliot Kennedy and James Graham - premiered at the American Repertory Theater in 2014 before transferring to Broadway the following year.
The concept is interesting with the story following the relationship playwright J. M. Barrie forms with the family that inspired Peter Pan. There are lots of fun references throughout - for example we discover what inspired Barrie to give his main villain a hook for a hand.
When I posted on West End Frame's social media that I was about to see Finding Neverland, notifications went mad - I have never seen such extreme, mixed opinions about a show before. One reader said "hands down think it is the best show I have ever seen" whilst another wrote "I found it unbearably tacky". Having never seen the film or listened to the cast album, I took my seat with an open mind; my opinion falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.
I've always been an admirer of Gary Barlow's music, but found the score (which has lyrics co-written by Eliot Kennedy) to be very bland. Several songs stand out, but there are too many forgettable fillers. Perhaps if I went away and listened to the album I would change my mind, but my first impression is that the music is mostly underwhelming.
At first I disliked the design tremendously, but later there are some good moments. The finale scene is breathtakingly stunning and leaves the audience transfixed - it's a shame the same level of creativity couldn't be used throughout. Finding Neverland wasn't the magical experience I had hoped for.
Alfie Boe and Kelsey Grammer are both rumoured to be starring in the show's 2017 West End transfer as J. M. Barrie and Charles Frohman/Captain James Hook. I was fortunate enough to catch Boe's first week and Grammer's final week in the show. Boe seemed a little out of his depth in the role; his vocals were strong but he struggled during scenes, particularly with his Scottish accent - hopefully this has improved by now. Boe upped his game during the act one finale 'Stronger', although it all got a little camp when he ripped open his shirt and punched his clenched fist into the air.
Grammer's performance was enjoyable and elsewhere it was wonderful to see West End performer Sally Ann Triplett back on Broadway in the role of Mrs. du Maurier. Finding Neverland's true star is Olivier winning British actress Laura Michelle Kelly as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. Even though the role is a little underwritten, Michelle Kelly is given several opportunities to shine including during her beautiful rendition of 'All That Matters'. When the show opens in London, Louise Dearman would make the perfect Sylvia. There are some fun company scenes during which different members of the ensemble prove themselves as strong character actors.
Whilst there are other Broadway shows I would rather see cross the pond, it will certainly be interesting to see how London audiences respond to Finding Neverland. Personally, I still think there's work to be done.
Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)
Finding Neverland plays at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (205 West 46th Street).
Please visit www.findingneverlandthemusical.com for information and tickets.