I discovered the day after seeing the opening of “Finding Neverland,” the enchanting musical about J.M. Barrie and Peter Pan, that Proctors was offering a dance workshop. Dang! Were I 60 years younger, I’d be there, because Mia Michaels’ choreography along with director Diane Paulus’ imaginative staging, is a highlight of a show full of highlights.
The first number, “Welcome to London,” reveals what Michaels and Paulus can do with an ensemble: vivid stage pictures, quirky hand gestures, jerky head bobs, tapping canes — in keeping with the theme of the show (the triumph of imagination over convention), everyday props become toys (e.g., the delightful “The Dinner Party”) and the body is no impediment to soaring.
And musically I think the show’s best numbers are, indeed, the big ones. Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy have written easy-on-the-ears songs for solos or duets, like “All That Matters” and “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground,” but, for my money give me “Hook,” “The World Is Upside Down” and “Play”: boffo stagings of the score’s most original moments. Kudos to musical director Ryan Cantwell for his work with the cast and orchestra.
The play’s book, by James Graham, is a fact-based telling of the origins of Peter Pan, the character created by J.M. Barrie (Billy Harrigan Tighe) after he becomes acquainted with the family of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Lael Van Keuren).
Davies has four young boys suffering from the death of their father. Her warm-heartedness is in stark contrast to the preachings of their imperious grandmother, Mrs. Du Maurier (Karen Murphy).
Barrie, who is struggling to get his next play written for producer Charles Frohman (John Davidson, who also plays Hook), uses his imagination to get the boys out of their doldrums; in the process, he comes up with the Peter Pan story. (Barrie’s idea for the pirate captain’s hook is amusing, a tongue-in-cheek take on the notion of inspiration.)
The production is full of delightful effects.
Turner Birthisel, Colin Wheeler, Wyatt Cirbus and Tyler Patrick Hennessy light up the stage as the Davies boys.
The ensemble scores with indelible portraits of full-of-themselves actors: delicious. Murphy’s Mrs. Du Maurier is properly Maggie Smith-ish early on, but the old woman’s intelligence and grief at her daughter’s death ultimately relax her backbone.
John Davidson! The voice is completely intact; the comic timing is impeccable. And, as Frohman addressing a London audience in Act 2, Davidson charmingly breaks the fourth wall.
Van Keuren’s Sylvia is grace itself. Too young to grieve forever, yet fully aware of her motherly duties, she instinctively knows the right moment to say yes to Barrie. Their duet/dance (“What You Mean to Me”) is a well-earned moment.
And Tighe shoulders the show with a winning performance as a man looking — unlike Peter Pan — to take off the shadow of his past and simply soar.
Tighe is an old-school triple threat, with the most fabulous high notes I’ve heard in a long time.
If you have friends in the East Lansing, Michigan area, tell them the show will be in town next week. They’ll thank you for the heads-up.
WHERE: Proctors, 432 State St.
WHEN: Through Dec. 10
HOW MUCH: $95-$20
MORE INFO: 518-346-6204, or proctors.org