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FINDING NEVERLAND at Shea’s Delivers on Years of Preparation and is Worth the Wait

Dog Sammy in the production, and dog trainer Bill Berloni.
Dog Sammy in the production, and dog trainer Bill Berloni.

THE BASICS:  After technical rehearsals in Buffalo (a coup for our city bringing a reported $1.3 million into the economy) a revised Broadway hit, FINDING NEVERLAND, is presented by Shea’s Performing Arts Center and Albert Nocciolino. This week sees the launch of its first national tour from Shea’s, running only October 15 Wednesday and Thursday, October 12 & 13 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, October 14 at 8 p.m., with final performances Saturday, October 15 at both 2 and 8 p.m. Runtime is a little over two hours with one 20-minute intermission and the usual mini-bars set up for cocktails, champagne, coffee and tea, cookies, soda, hot nuts, and souvenirs.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  The winner of Broadway.com‘s Audience Choice Award for BEST MUSICAL, directed by Tony award winning Diane Paulus, it’s being produced by Harvey Weinstein (of Buffalo’s “Harvey and Corky” production team fame), based very closely on Weinstein’s multiple Academy Award nominated and (Best Original Score) Oscar winning 2004 film FINDING NEVERLAND starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet.

FINDING NEVERLAND tells the story behind the creation of Peter Pan. Irish born playwright J.M. Barrie has been struggling to find inspiration for his next play and is under considerable pressure from his theatrical producer when he meets four young brothers and their widowed mother and, inspired by their imagination, he creates the characters that are familiar to all (Peter Pan, Tinker Bell, Captain Hook, etc.).

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: With special effects that I’ve never seen before, and energetic actors at the beginning of their tour, this show is a delight. Usually Buffalo is one stop on a long, grueling national tour, and even though the folks on stage for whatever musical is here are professionals and love the life, it certainly felt different to be their opening city. Hey, it’s exciting to be part of something new (the first launch of a Broadway tour from Buffalo) and special (Buffalo is where producer Harvey Weinstein got his start) and a great way to say “thank you” to Shea’s president Anthony Conte for getting us here as he hands over the keys of this architectural theater gem now on solid financial ground to Michael Murphy.

Kevin Kern portrays an expressive J. M. Barrie and certainly has a kid inside of him bursting forth throughout the evening. He plays off well against other fine “outsized” performances by Tom Hewitt as the producer Charles Frohman and Cameron Bond as Captain Hook (who is Barrie’s repressed personality) and the four boys (the actors will change throughout the run).

Christine Dwyer as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the mother of the four boys, is beautiful and strong and vulnerable and tender and absolutely captivating. Her anthem “All That Matters” in Act I was a show-stopper and when she goes to Neverland in Act II I’ll admit I was crying. I’m not sure that I believe in fairies, but I believed in her.

There were three special effects/moments that I’ve never seen before and that I will never forget.

There were three special effects/moments that I’ve never seen before and that I will never forget. The first is fleeting, early on, in the boys’ bedroom, where they fly momentarily, lifted by other cast members, and lit magically. It was as if they were human Bunraku puppets (inanimate puppets manipulated on-stage by puppeteers who are completely visible although usually dressed in black). Yes, we’ve all seen ballet lifts, and there were plenty of those throughout the show, but this brief flying episode staging was completely new to me.

The second effect was towards the end, where a cyclone of air is created on stage surrounding Sylvia through which Tinker Bell (Dee Tomasetta) swoops delivering shimmery fairy dust which forms a column. And the third effect uses the same column to leave Sylvia’s shawl suspended in mid-air. I’m getting choked up just typing these words. You really have to see it.

Buffalo-four

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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