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.

“Peter Pan Live” Airs on NBC

Allison Williams and Christopher Walken Star

Peter Pan Live!On December 4, 2014, NBC continued its now annual tradition of airing a theatrical production filmed exclusively for television. Last year, NBC had a stupendous success with their airing of a live production of The Sound of Music, amassing 22 million viewers for the special, which was produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron (the producers of the Oscars as well as many musical films such as Chicago and Hairspray). This year, the same producing team mounted a production of Peter Pan, adapting the version first produced in 1954. Following in a tradition led by Mary Martin and Cathy Rigby of a female portraying the young boy, Allison Williams (Girls) was cast as Peter Pan. In addition, Christopher Walken (A Behanding in Spokane, Hurlyburly) portrayed Captain Hook, Christian Borle (Peter and the Starcatcher) played Smee, Kelli O’Hara (The Bridges of Madison County) played Mrs. Darling, and Minnie Driver played the adult Wendy and the narrator. The broadcast, though not as successful as last year’s The Sound of Music, brought in 9.129 million viewers.

Sometimes Growing Up Is Not So Bad photo

Allison Williams is a star who has recently skyrocketed to national recognition, and this performance certainly took her notoriety one step further than the already immense fame she has garnered for her supporting role on Lena Dunham’s Girls on HBO. It’s not an accident that her father is Brian Williams, managing editor and anchor of NBC nightly news for over 20 years. Still, it’s hard to resent the nepotism involved here, because both father and daughter are so sweetly earnest. This photo is a screen shot of a recent facebook post Allison Williams made on her personal profile, showing how she has yearned to play this role since the age of 2 and a half. And her father was the first to announce the casting on his news show, adorably citing how this is a role she has always longed to play, and he should know, as he’s her father. This was an interesting way for Williams to foray into professional stage performance, as the broadcast had elements of both stage and screen performance. Whereas the musical was written and principally staged for the full-scale live stage performance, there were also elements that were only possible due to the filmed format, such as a larger set and cast and more diverse camera angles. Walken was cited to express ambivalence about this duality of performance methods, as he wasn’t thrilled about having a stage show broadcast to millions without the usual weeks of rehearsals and previews given to a Broadway show, and also that he’s never quite sure when the camera was even on him.

Firmly Mixed Reviews

peter panEven prior to the airing on Thursday evening, Williams conducted several interviews in which she predicted that many people would “hate-watch” the special, but also expecting that once they sat down to view it, it would be difficult to realize the “hate” part of the equation. Perhaps her self-aware semi-cynicism stems from her friendship with fellow millennial stars such as Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke, who would never be caught dead performing in such a classically un-ironical role such as this one (though Dunham probably wishes she could be a musical star, but she cannot sing and her comedy stems from a very different place; Kirke honestly would never wish this upon herself). Anyway, Williams was thrust amongst these fellow girls, and does offer a nice juxtaposition to their sentiment on the HBO show, but in this case, she proves herself to be paving the way to a very different career. As for actual reviews, some people loved it, and some people genuinely despised it, but most were somewhere in between. Alessandra Stanley in The New York Times said that Allison “ruined hate-watching,” because she convincingly pulled off the role after all. The Hollywood Reporter lauded Williams’ performance, and considered the entire special a success. Still, musical theatre lover Adam Feldman in Time Out New York came out with perhaps the most objectively accurate response, critiquing the entire show of Peter Pan for not being a first-rate show in the first place, but also critiquing Zadan and Meron for minimizing the inherent theatricality of the piece. Still, he expressed a sincere wish that NBC try again with the live television musical theatre concept next year, which the network has already expressed their intent to do.

Peter Pan Musical To Be Aired Live on TV

Peter PanIn the wake of the massive ratings success of NBC’s live production of The Sound of Music starring Carrie Underwood, the network has tapped producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan to replicate their success with another live musical event later this year.

The next event will be the live broadcast of a production of the musical adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan, which has lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and music by Jule Styne and Moose Charlap. Originally produced on Broadway in 1954 with Mary Martin playing Peter Pan, this version features well-known songs like “I Won’t Grow Up” and “I’m Flying”.

“We hope to create the joy that has made this musical so beloved,” stated Meron and Zadon. “We would like a whole new generation to experience Peter Pan and for families across the country to share the magic.”

Casting has not yet been announced for NBC’s live airing of Peter Pan, but the broadcast is scheduled to air on December 4, 2014.

Peter and the Starcatcher Introduces Post-Show Talkback Series

Broadway’s Peter and the Starcatcher has begun holding post-performance talkbacks on Wednesday nights.  With these post-show discussions, the multiple Tony Award winning play is offering audiences a chance to be drawn further into the wacky universe of the show, which is a telling of the origins of Peter Pan and his world.

The next scheduled Peter and the Starcatcher talkback will be held following the Wednesday, October 10 performance.  The discussion will feature the participation of Sandy Duncan, the sprightly actress known for her starring role as the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up in the 1979 Broadway production of the musical Peter Pan.  Joined by Peter and the Starcatcher‘s Adam Chanler-Berat, Celia Keenan-Bolger, and Matthew Saldívar, Duncan will talk about the challenges of taking on an iconic role on the Broadway stage.

The following week’s post-show discussion, to be held after the Wednesday, October 17 performance, will focus on Peter and the Starcatcher‘s design.  Set designer Donyale Werle and costume designer Paloma Young, who both earned Tonys for their efforts, will talk about their creative processes.  They will be joined by the play’s director, Roger Rees, and playwright Rick Elice.