“Finding Neverland” Thrives Despite Tony Snub

Broadway Proving Not So Welcoming to Harvey Weinstein

finding neverland posterHarvey Weinstein, the mega powerful film producer and distributor whose countless credits include Shakespeare in Love, Gangs of New York, The Artist, and The King’s Speech, has served as lead producer for the first time of a Broadway show. Finding Neverland, based on the 2004 film of the same name which Weinstein executive produced, is a new musical that has been running at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre since it began previews on March 15, 2015. Its official opening night was April 15, 2015. Technically, Weinstein has been on the producing team of several Broadway shows in the past such as The Producers and Billy Elliot, but his involvement with those shows was almost exclusively financial. With Finding Neverland, he takes on the full producing responsibility for the first time on Broadway. Unfortunately, Broadway is proving a tough nut to crack, even for a man as powerful as Weinstein. The most important recognition that a show can receive is the Tony Award, and Finding Neverland was nominated for a grand total of zero of these awards. Proving the hostility Weinstein felt towards the Broadway community, he rescinded the invitations to the approximately 700 Tony voters, who are generally offered a free pair of tickets to all shows on Broadway. Though he had already sent out those invitations prior to the nominations, he bitterly revoked the offer upon the show receiving no nominations.

A Pitiful Series of Reviewsfinding neverland

In line with the Tony nominating committee’s decision not to recognize Finding Neverland, the show received almost entirely negative reviews after its opening night. Ben Brantley of The New York Times disdained the show, not falling for the strength of the brand name of the show or its stars, Kelsey Grammer and Matthew Morrison. David Cote of Time Out New York was equally unimpressed, calling the show awkward, garish, and manipulative. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter reported that the show was severely lacking in charm, despite admitting that it is probably critic-proof due to the strong brand name and pre-opening ticket sales. Jesse Green of Vulture found the show utterly false and therefore deeply frustrating. Robert Kahn of NBC New York was only slightly more generous, admitting there is some thrilling stage magic but ultimately finding it erratic. However, as The Hollywood Reporter presaged, the show is proving immune to these negative reviews, as it has been over the million dollar mark at the box office for every full week of its run so far.

Strong Box Office and Celebrity Album

finding neverlandThough Weinstein may be aggravated by the lack of full welcome to the Broadway community, his ticketbuyers don’t seem to be devastated. In the most recently reported week of ticket sales, the week ending May 24, 2015, Finding Neverland brought in a weekly gross of $1,107,925, which is almost exactly how much the weekly gross has been since its first full week ending March 22, 2015, give or take $100,000 at the most. That weekly gross represents 75.06% of the show’s gross potential, and the audience capacity was an average of 94.2% full. Therefore, there is some room for growth still in the box office grosses, but failing motivation from Tony recognition or critical appreciation, Weinstein is trying another approach. One innovation he has introduced is that he is releasing an album of celebrities singing the score for Finding Neverland, though most of these celebrities are not involved with the show. This is pure promotion, and Weinstein clearly knows how to pull a lot of strings. The extensive list of impressive singers on the album include Christina Aguilera, Nick Jonas, Jon Bon Jovi, John Legend, the Goo Goo Dolls, Kiesza, Jennifer Lopez, Ellie Goulding, and Matthew Morrison, only the last of which is actually in the cast of the show. The album is to be released on June 9, 2015 via Republic Records, although pre-sales started on May 12, 2015. In addition to providing another income stream for the show, this album is sure to spur continued interest in the Broadway musical, which is still looking for that last boost to reach its full gross potential.

Harvey Weinstein’s “Finding Neverland” Begins Previews

Inspired by the 2004 Film of the Same Name

finding neverlandOn March 15, 2015, Finding Neverland began previews at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The musical is the first venture for Weinstein Live Entertainment, which is the stage producing entity of Harvey Weinstein, the film producing powerhouse whose many credits include Shakespeare in Love, August: Osage County, The Artist, Inglourious Basterds, and The King’s Speech. Whereas Weinstein has served as a limited partner in assisting the production of stage plays in the past, such as The Producers, Billy Elliot the Musical, and August: Osage County, this is the first his company has developed a show from scratch and served as lead producer. Always taking precautions for perfection, Weinstein hired a seasoned executive producer to make sure the show was running smoothly: Barry and Fran Weissler, whose many credits include Chicago, Pippin, La Cage aux Folles, and The Scottsboro Boys. The musical Finding Neverland is based on the 2004 film, which starred Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie, the writer of Peter Pan; the film also won the 2004 Academy Award for Best Musical Score. That film was also a major commercial hit, bringing in over $118 million at the box office, with a budget of $25 million. The film was distributed by Miramax, a Weinstein Company, which evolved into Weinstein’s interest in the stage adaptation.

A Superb Creative Team

The show is directed by Diane Paulus, who is renowned for her original interpretation of musicals including Hair, Pippin, and The Gershwins’ Porgy & Bess. She is also the artistic director of American Repertory Theatre in Boston. Finding Neverland is choreographed by Mia Michaels who is best known for being a judge and choreographer on the TV Show So You Think You Can Dance; this is her first venture into Broadway choreography. Weinstein, ever the perfectionist, did not find this creative team on his first attempt. Finding Neverland premiered in Leicester, England in an out of the way run to work out its kinks. Whereas it is not unusual for producers to try their shows out of town before bringing them to Broadway, they usually don’t go as far as rural England, and furthermore they usually stick with their team in working on the issues. However, in this case, Weinstein got such mixed feedback from the Leicester run that he decided to scrap his creative team and start from the beginning, and this is when he brought in Diane Paulus, and decided to have a pre-Broadway run in Cambridge at American Repertory Theatre. In this revised version, the book is by James Graham, and the music and lyrics are by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy.

Original Broadway Castkelsey grammer matthew morrison

For the Broadway production, many new cast members were brought in from previous incarnations. At the Lunt-Fontanne, the role of J. M. Barrie is played by Matthew Morrison (Hairspray, The Light in the Piazza, “Glee”). The role of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies remains the same as from ART; she is played by Laura Michelle Kelly (Mary Poppins). The part of Charles Frohman and Captain Hook is played by Kelsey Grammer (“Frasier”, “Cheers”, La Cage aux Folles), and Mary Barrie is played by Teal Wicks (Wicked, Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical). Additional roles are played by Carolee Carmello, Courtney Balan, Dana Costello, Melanie Moore, and Rory Donovan. This is in addition to the roles played by children, which have rotating casts. The show will have its official opening on April 15, 2015, and it presently scheduled for an open-ended run.

Porgy and Bess Closes on Broadway Today

The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess closes today, having played over 300 performances at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.  The famed American folk opera debuted on Broadway in 1935, but this production brought it to a whole new audience.  The stunning score features Gershwin classics like “Summertime,” “I Got Plenty Of Nothin’,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” and “Bess, You Is My Woman Now”.

Before the production even began performances on Broadway, it had created a stir.  Director Diane Paulus, along with playwright Suzan-Lori Parks and composer Diedre Murray (who adapted this version of the opera to make it more suitable for Broadway), announced their intention to flesh out the character of Bess in particular, and to make further changes to the show in order to make it more palatable for modern audiences who might find aspects of its portrayal of poor black life outdated.  Many theater purists were outraged at the thought of changes being made to a musical masterpiece, but eventually their voices were drowned out by the positive buzz and acclaim that accompanied the show when it finally opened.

Porgy and Bess won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, and star Audra McDonald nabbed yet another Tony.  The musical also received numerous additional nominations for stars Norm Lewis, Phillip Boykin, and David Alan Grier, for director Paulus, and for the show’s orchestrators and designers.