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Center Stage: ‘Finding Neverland’ is one for the books

By Staff | Oct 15, 2019

Marsha Wagner

Recently I watched an entire audience get sprinkled with the enchanted pixie dust of live theater and get turned into kids again, during the opening night performance of “Finding Neverland” at the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre. Now, I gotta tell you – that is magic!

Based on the critically-acclaimed 2004 movie and nominated as the “Audience Choice Award” winner, this musical show played on Broadway for 17 months in 2015-2016.

Revamped since its Broadway run, the show opens with the rousing “Welcome To London” which serves to transport the audience to a London park, at the turn of the century; here we meet J.M. Barrie (played by talented Mark Bacon). Barrie, a formerly successful playwright, is struggling to find inspiration after his latest theater production was deemed a resounding flop! Barrie labors to write a new play to appease his high-strung American producer, Charles Frohman (played to the hilt by multi- faceted Kirk Lawrence). Barrie is struggling to find inspiration while strolling in the park when he suddenly meets a young attractive widow, Josephine Florence Cooper (another talented Palm discovery Sylvia Llewelyn Davies), and her four young sons (Brycton Archer as George, Evan Barrero as Jack, Caisson Dobson as Peter and Ashton Heathcoat as Michael). All the boys, except for Peter, are rambunctiously playing at being pirates; Peter is reading quietly since he feels he is too old for such silly games. Barrie, intrigued by these make-believe adventures, determines to write a play based on these games. This new writing venture will eventually astound London theatergoers, as well as the rest of the world. With a dab of pixie magic and a lot of faith Barrie makes a monumental flight by leaving the real world behind for Neverland, where really nothing is impossible, and the magic of childhood lasts forever. “Finding Neverland” is the heartwarming theater musical that brings this delightful story to life.

You could tell at a glance that the whole audience – myself included – loved watching this story unfold and come to life before our very eyes. With its moving songs, funny antics and nifty choreography, performed by a top-of-the-line cast of talented performers, “Finding Neverland” takes you on an adventure to someplace imagined, while being brought to real life through the magic of live theater; it just doesn’t get better than that. Bottom line, I simply loved seeing how some of my favorite fictional characters like Tinkerbell, Captain Hook and Peter Pan came to be, from page to stage.

This production features music and lyrics by Gary Barlow, and Elliot Kennedy with a book by James Bacon all of whom contribute mightily to fusing fantasy to reality and creating live, theater magic. All I can add to that is a mighty thank you for letting me be a kid again for a couple of hours.

No review of mine would be complete without citing some extra special performances by this remarkable cast: Bacon as J.M. Barrie, Cooper as Sylvia Llewelyn Davis, Lawrence as Charles Frohman/Captain Hook, Emmanuelle Zeesman as Mrs. du Maurier, and the “boys” – Archer as George, Barrero as Jack, Dobson as Peter and Heathcoat as Michael. Space does not allow for all the names of other outstanding feature players or ensemble players but let me state here and now “they were all outstanding.”

I must mention one excited four-footed member of the cast making his remarkable stage debut, a 9-month-old golden labradoodle, Oscar Prather. Oscar demanded he send a big “woof” to his trainer Kaye Adams and his dad, David Prather.

Well, there you have it folks. Another audience blockbuster hitting the boards of the Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre and playing till Nov. 16, after which this show hits the road starting in January for a grand tour, making over 50 stops in cities across the United States and Canada.

Since this is one of those heartwarming theater events that is bound to sell out as soon as word of mouth gets going, leaving me to suggest that you “fly” over to the phone right now, call the box office at 239-278-4422 and book your tickets now and take a magical trip to “Finding Neverland.” Also, when you phone, remind ’em Marsha sent you!