After last Friday's announcement that the Broadway production of Finding Neverland will indeed sprinkle a little fairy dust over itself, think a happy thought and fly its way over the Atlantic for an open-ended run in London, our New York Editor Tom took a quick look at the much-talked-about musical's journey so far.
The Broadway incarnation has not failed to make headlines over the pond for reasons good, bad and ugly. Just yesterday the New York Theatre Guide reported that the cast's newest member and three-time Tony nominee Sandy Duncan, who famously portrayed Peter Pan at Finding Neverland's current home of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre from 1979 to 1981, has departed the company after just a handful of performances. Citing "family obligations" as the cause and vowing that Ms Duncan would return to the show as soon as possible, producers were keen to play down her sudden departure.
Sandy Duncan takes a bow on Broadway
On a happier note, some unofficial news has been circling the industry that Lancashire's own Alfie Boe may well be in line to assume the leading role of J.M. Barrie in the Broadway production this year, ahead of reprising the part in the West End incarnation in 2017. It has yet to be confirmed when Britain's favourite tenor will make his debut. He is still scheduled to appear as Jean Valjean in Les Mis on Broadway until 28th February and Tony nominee Tony Yazbeck only recently took over as J.M. Barrie on 26th January from fellow Tony nominee and "Glee" star Matthew Morrison.
Ever since the musical adaptation of Finding Neverland was announced for the Great White Way, it has been met with an arguably harsh backlash from the theatre industry. Why you ask? Two words - Harvey Weinstein. The Hollywood mogul is billed as the show's producer and his infamous bullish persona has not endeared him to the Broadway community during his first venture into musical theatre. There was a well-documented parting of the ways between Weinstein and his press agent Broadway veteran Rick Miramontez, after some heated rows, with the latter being quoted to say: “If I were a headline writer I’d go with this: Broadway to Harvey Weinstein: Drop Dead.”
Matthew Morrison and Cast on Broadway
And then there was the Tony Awards... Having received criticism for being given special treatment at the 2014 ceremony for being the only production to be showcased (with Oscar and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson performing the title song) whilst not actually running yet on Broadway, Finding Neverland failed to pick up a single Tony nomination at the 2015 ceremony. The nominees for Best Musical last year were 'An American in Paris,' 'Something Rotten!,' 'The Visit,' and 'Fun Home,' with the latter eventually picking up the gong. Having seen all of those delightful musicals, I can honestly say I am baffled at the exclusion of Finding Neverland. Surely politics and a loathing for Weinstein are to blame? The critics were also less than overwhelmed with Ben Brantley for the New York Times stating: "It heightens the screenplay’s sentimentality, tidy psychologizing and life-affirming messages by thickening their syrup and corn quotients in ways presumably deemed palatable to theatergoing children and their parents."
However, when it comes to the general public-voted popularity contests, the show picked up the Broadway.com Audience's Choice Award for Best Musical - perhaps the clearest indication of its crowd-pleasing status. The box office continues to do good business at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre and there has never been any discussion of whether Finding Neverland is commercially viable or not.
Finding Neverland at the Leicester Curve, 2012
The show has come a long way since originally premiering on our shores at Leicester's Curve in 2012 (albeit with a completely different creative team). The book was provided by Allan Knee, with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, until Harvey Weinstein again threw his weight around and replaced them for the Broadway production with James Graham, Eliot Kennedy and Take That's own Gary Barlow, marking his first foray into musical theatre. Having not seen the Curve version, it is unfortunately impossible for me to comment on the effectiveness or damage of the switcheroo. But with Barlow's inclusion, Neverland is sure to make even more headlines in the build-up to its West End premiere. The score will certainly not disappoint the many fans of Take That, as a good handful of the numbers wouldn't sound at all out of place on a Take That album. Musical theatre purists may shudder at the thought of this, but this is a commercial musical for an evolved modern generation. We'll look forward to more casting news for the London production in the months ahead.
Will British favourite and Olivier Award winner Laura Michelle Kelly reprise her Broadway role of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies on these shores? Will Tony nominee and "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammer, who has enjoyed an on-off relationship with the musical, take on the roles of Charles Frohman and Captain Hook in the West End or will his final performance on 26th March in the Broadway production spell the end of his Neverland venture?
We will keep you posted, lost boys (and girls)!
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