Finding Neverland's national tour's cast dazzles at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Do you believe in magic? Broadway in Chicago’s latest production, Finding Neverland—about the creation of Peter Pan—recently landed at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. Fresh from an August close on Broadway, this delightful musical is directed by Tony® Award winner Diane Paulus (Hair, Pippin), with book by James Graham, score by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy and based on the Academy Award®-winning movie starring Johnny Depp.
Center stage: Before the overture starts, a single point of light travels across the ceiling and curtain. This bright light is Tinker Bell, the fictional fairy who requires an audience’s applause to live. In the classic Peter Pan play, Peter asks the children in the audience to clap if they believe in fairies. Tonight, everyone clapped, the light brightened, and the show took flight.
Setting the stage: London, 1904
Kevin Kern’s J.M. Barrie is a stalled playwright given a last chance by his American producer, Charles Frohman (Tom Hewitt), to write a show that will halt his theater’s bankruptcy. Barrie meets Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (the silken-voiced Christine Dwyer), a young widow with four young sons, in Kensington Gardens. The oldest son, Peter, becomes the inspiration for the beloved Peter Pan, the “boy who never grew up”. Captivated and inspired by the boys’ rambunctiousness and enthusiasm, and believing in the magic of dreams, Barrie conjures up fantasy Neverland. He writes a play—Peter Pan—to capture London theatergoers’ fancy and pocketbooks.
Imagination, longing, love and family weave throughout this robust, passionate performance. From the moment Kern opens dialogue with “Once upon a time, there was no Peter Pan”, he perfectly embodies Barrie. His voice was made for the stage’s ballads and belting, as was Christine Dwyer’s. And you won’t want to miss the boys staging a play in their backyard, singing “We’re All Made of Stars” in superb harmony.
This energetic musical’s magic expressed through pop-infused songs and Mia Michael’s electrifying choreography kept us on our toes. Picture mermaids. A bear on roller skates. A live dog. And a nimble Peter Pan (Dee Tomasetta) soaring through the air. Dwyer’s “All That Matters” and the ensemble’s multi-layered “Circus of Your Mind” remind us that harmony can be found amidst family and career crises.
The plot thickens when darkness arrives as a figment of Barrie’s imagination—Captain Hook (flamboyantly executed by Tom Hewitt, in a dual role). Hook and his pirates toy with Barrie, eventually convincing him to pursue a bold, new way of writing.
Need a quick escape from the cold-weather blues? Neverland beckons. As Peter Pan sang, “I have a place where dreams are born. And time is never planned. It’s not on any chart. You must find it with your heart. Never Never Land.”
Hold on to your piece of sky—Don’t tinker with success. Sprinkle fairy dust on your wings.