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Finding Neverland: Theater review by David Cote
Manic, childish applause might cure the poisoned fairy Tinker Bell, but it's not medicine enough for Finding Neverland, the awkward, garish and manipulative musical based on the 2004 Miramax film about playwright J.M. Barrie and the boys who inspired Peter Pan. Show-doctored into a state of shrill mediocrity, the patient can barely walk, let alone fly.
The premise worked in the movie, whisking us from Edwardian England to Barrie's fertile whimsy as Johnny Depp took inspiration from four soon-to-be-motherless lads. Here, book writer James Graham opts for a portrait of Barrie (Matthew Morrison) as a troubled midcareer artist whose affection for the children of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Laura Michelle Kelly) grows gradually—not the fast, impish connection Depp made onscreen. This being a family musical competing with the superior Wicked, Matilda and others, nonexistent drama has been drummed up (along with the volume, in Jonathan Deans's oppressive sound design) to justify two acts about a successful writer's new project and his crush on a sickly widow.
Some of the cartoonish overacting and second-act plucking of heartstrings might be forgiven if the score were enchanting, but Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy's tunes (a mix of Britpop and pseudo–music hall) are generic and burdened by cheap, trite lyrics. When the brightest element in Diane Paulus's tacky staging is Kelsey Grammer as a curmudgeonly producer, you know it's time to get the hook.
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (Broadway). Book by James Graham. Music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Directed by Diane Paulus. With Matthew Morrison, Laura Michelle Kelly, Kelsey Grammar. Running time: 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote