So many shows have come from J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan” it’s practically a genre unto itself.
While “Peter and the Starcatcher” was an inventive look at the boy who wouldn’t grow up, “Finding Neverland” is a bit more conventional, filled with the kind of references designed to elicit expected reactions.
Based on the hit film of the same name, the new musical never lingers long on any of them but, like “Wicked,” tries to reward its audience for connecting the dots.
Most times, they land. But often in the touring production of the Broadway musical, they make you long for more – one more rewrite, one more song.
Stopping at the Orpheum Theatre Wednesday night, the show features plenty of exuberant dancing and a pair of winning performances by Jeff Sullivan as Barrie and Spenser Micetich as Charles Frohman, the producer pushing him to write a hit.
Instead of retracing his own steps, Barrie decides to go in a new direction after meeting a widow and her four sons. They plant the seeds and, before we know it, the leaves of “Peter Pan” begin to sprout.
The connection is particularly intense with the first act closers “Hook” and “Stronger,” which let Micetich morph into Captain Hook in order to bring out Barrie’s darker side. Sullivan gets to board a makeshift pirate ship and, before we know it, he’s walking the plank of inspiration.
Then, in the second act, it’s just a couple of coughs and a kiss before the end. The widow (Ruby Gibbs) develops a disease that suggests she’s not long for this world but wants to make the most of her time. This prompts the boys to create their own play, a show-stopping number and a few tears before everything “Pans” out.
While Diane Paulus directed the original with plenty of “Cats”-like flourishes, she couldn’t quite create what James Graham and Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy hadn’t written. Their book and music seem rushed, more interested in hitting beats instead of emotions. Still, Sullivan sells all of his numbers, using his range to put meat on the songs’ bare bones.
He dances well, too, and makes us believe he’s committed to passing his talent to another generation. While the relationship with Gibbs’ Sylvia seems a little hit and run, it serves its purpose and helps propel the final Cliffs Notes version of “Peter Pan.”
Playing with plenty of clichés about theater, “Finding Neverland” at least lets folks like Josh Dunn and Joshua William Green shine backstage before finding their places in the “Peter Pan” drama.
Blessed with great projections (but bad spotlight work), this “Finding Neverland” doesn’t make you want to crow, but it does prompt you to wonder what really made the original fly.