Finding Neverland isn’t perfect. It has a serviceable score that you may forget as soon as you exit the theater, and its story may be lacking in real dramatic tension. But what it does well, it does better than perhaps any show in recent memory: it ignites our imaginations.
Based on the 2004 film starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, Finding Neverland tells the story of how writer J.M. Barrie was inspired to write one of the world’s most beloved children stories, Peter Pan, after meeting widowed mother Sylvia and her four endlessly energetic children. His days go from being filled with writer’s block to playing pirates with the new kids in his life – a change that unleashes his inner kid and brings about a newfound zest for life.
If there’s one thing that sticks out about this production, it’s the beauty and ingenuity that went into some of the stage effects, including how the show brings Tinkerbell to life, and a glitter explosion in the second act that had the entire audience gasping in unison.
While the score often leans towards the generic side, there’s more than one standout, including the number “The Circus in Your Mind.” in which Barrie, Sylvia, and her kids use their imaginations to wreak havoc on a stuffy formal dinner party; and “Stronger,” which introduces us to Captain Hook. And then there’s the song “Neverland,” a ballad so lovely and full of heart that I challenge it not to bring a tear to your eye. It’s a song that reminds us why the origins of these wonderful stories are so significant. Peter Pan may bring memories of joy to all those who grew up loving it, but it was born from tragedy: the concept of Neverland was created by a young Barrie to cope with the death of his brother. In that moment, the show finally shows why this is a story worth telling.
There’s some heavy subject matter here that results in a full-on tearjerker, but that shouldn’t keep parents from bringing the young ones to the theater. At its core, Neverland is an earnest ode to the sanctity of childhood. At a time when it feels like technology may be affecting kids’ ability to play using their imagination, Neverland reminds us to cherish childhood. And for adults, the message is clear: Youth may fade, but one can always access the kid-at-heart within, if only you just believe.
Finding Neverland is playing at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts now through December 31. For tickets and more info, visit: