At heart, Finding Neverland, now charming audiences at the Lunt-Fontaine Theater on Broadway, is about the creation of theater: This is the backstory to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan. Following closely enough to the Johnny Depp-starring movie, the Broadway musical begins with J.M. Barrie's colossal writing block when the playwright (Matthew Morrison) is past deadline with theater impresario Charles Frohman (Kelsey Grammer). Among the many joys in this musical is seeing the backstage shenanigans of actors who, quite frankly, need the work Barrie fails to deliver. Where can the writer find inspiration? A man who won't grow up, he finds it in the park with the Llewelyn Davies boys, including Peter (Aidan Gemme for the opening) and their lovely if ailing mother (Laura Michelle Kelly).
Finding Neverland relies on viewers' familiarity with the story of Tinkerbell, Peter, his Lost Boys, Nana, and the loquacious Captain Hook. On opening night the ushers said the house is packed for every performance, and the crowds are in thrall. Director Diane Paulus, whose specialty is the creation of enchantment, outdoes herself even in the story's darkest moments. Yes, special effects play a big, dazzling part. This is a story for children who do, in the end, have to grow up.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.