“Finding Neverland” – ASU Gammage

Theater Review – March 16, 2017


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

The engagingly fascinating musical “Finding Neverland” tells a magical story of author J. M. Barrie’s development of his fictional icon Peter Pan and the struggles that went into the creation of the other kids.  It shows how Barrie met and wooed the beguiling Sylvia Llewelyn Davies as well as the challenges presented by her sternly unbending matriarch, Mrs. Du Maurier.

When I saw the show In New York, it was a weakly produced dud at the end of an unusually long Broadway run with a cast of weak replacement performers.  It looked and played like a floundering waste of time designed for adults looking for an appropriate kids show.  But at ASU Gammage this week, the brightened tour has a strong cast and the elaborate period production looks fresh and eye-filling as are the succession of lush period costumes.

The musical isn’t memorable but the score is pleasant.  Diane Paulus’ original drab and dull staging when I saw it in New York seems brighter and sharper.

The only major problem with the “Finding Neverland” production is the tours’ sound was not well coordinated with ASU Gammage’s system and, from the 20th row, I had trouble hearing specific dialogue because what came from the stage was a grabbled mess of discordant sounds.  Thank goodness I had seen the show, knew much of the dialogue, and therefore could easily follow the story.

The cast contains lots of engaging kids who are fun to watch.  The fine cast features Billy Harrigan Tighe’s believable J.M Barrie, Crystal Kellogg’s appealing Mary, Christine Dwyer’s charming Sylvia, and Karen Murphy’s gruff Mrs. Du Maurier.  Starring as both producer Charles Frohman and Captain James Hook, Tom Hewitt commands the show with distinction.  Sammy, an adorable dog, steals every scene he walks through.  Of the children, Ben Krieger was a dominate Peter.

“Finding Neverland” is more enjoyable and better produced than on Broadway but it earns three stars out of five because it isn’t a great musical.  It continues through Sunday, March 19.

A few benefits come a theater critic’s way.  The ladies restrooms, long a serious ASU Gammage problem, have been redone in impressive new towers on each side of the theater with elevators that fit perfectly with Frank Lloyd Wright’s original design.  The renovations reflect a refreshed facility that is now a proud local theater and an appropriate place for Broadway tours to stop.  To order tickets, call the Ticketmaster box office at 800-982-2787 or order tickets online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: C