‘Finding Neverland’ nice, but lacking big sparkle

Finding Neverland” on the Connor Palace stage at Playhouse Square begins with a tiny light flitting about the space. Unfortunately, there isn’t much else besides this small glimmer that brightens up this story about Peter Pan’s creation.

Running now through November 20, 2016, the audience is drawn into the world of writer J.M. Barrie (played by dapper Cincinnati, OH native Kevin Kern). We find him to be a bit lost and looking for his next story. He has no idea that Captain Hook, Wendy, the Lost Boys, and so many other now-famous characters are about to come into his life.

In the park one day, Barrie meets a beautiful widow named Sylvia (played by Christine Dwyer) with her four rambunctious boys, and their imaginations soar! They make believe about pirates and islands and never growing old. Wouldn’t these stories be the perfect kind of magic to set upon the theatrical company for which Barrie is writing?

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“Finding Neverland” at Playhouse Square (photo – Carol Rosegg)

The story loses focus when all of the happy sunshine of Barrie’s dreamworld clashes with an awkward company of protesting actors, and with his own personal drama.

Barrie’s wife leaves him, his producer is unhappy with his work, and we also discover that Sylvia is dying. It’s almost too much up-and-down for a family-friendly show. It’s too much darkness for so much contrasting joyful syrup, as the roller coaster of emotions becomes an unsettling ride into an unsatisfactory mix of oddity.

The scenery itself is beautiful. Rich colors and landscapes play with breathtaking lighting components. The projections add a stunning vibrancy and excitement to scenes that might otherwise just feel kind of “meh.” Yes, I used the word “meh.”

The costumes, the set, the staging, the lights – everything looks beautiful. The actors have their hearts into every word and every song. The visuals and the people are wonderful. The dog is a fun surprise! It’s the story itself and how it’s woven together that makes “Finding Neverland” a tricky piece.

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“Finding Neverland” at Playhouse Square (photo – Carol Rosegg)

The production touts Barrie as moving forward with a “little bit of pixie dust and a lot of faith,” but not even Tinkerbell can make this one a blockbuster. It’s not to say that the show is not good. It’s just that it’s missing some overall “umph” that would make it spectacular.

There are some “oooooh”-worthy moments, though. Part 4 of the song “Circus of Your Mind” is very exciting – the projection movements and the merry-go-round of lights pacing with the company is mesmerizing. “Stronger” (Part 2) is actually standing ovation-worthy. The entire stage is full of so much energy and raw vocal power that it’s as if the whole theatre full of people is being rallied to go storm a castle.

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“Finding Neverland” at Playhouse Square (photo – Carol Rosegg)

Dwyer has a lovely voice as Sylvia. Kern does a nice job as J.M. Barrie, and he elicits all of the right emotions needed for this complex character. The children in the show have fair voices, and they entertain with their devilish charm and winning personalities.

The production’s music is good but lacks any blockbuster numbers that will stick in your head. But all in all the production makes for a pleasant evening of listening and eye candy, if nothing else.

Despite the knife that gets thrown into the audience’s heart several times throughout the story (again, we’re dealing with the concepts of disappointment and mortality while running through fairy dust), the bright moments are worth it.

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“Finding Neverland” at Playhouse Square (photo – Carol Rosegg)

Directed by Tony award winner Diane Paulus, “Finding Neverland” plays the Connor Palace at Playhouse Square through November 20, 2016. Tickets can be purchased by clicking HERE, or by calling 216-241-6000.

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