"FINDING NEVERLAND," through Dec. 9, Eccles Theater, 131 S. Main (801-355-2787 or artsaltlake.org); running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (one intermission)
SALT LAKE CITY — Kids of all shapes and sizes — think 1 to 92 — let their imagination take flight on Tuesday evening thanks to the storybook-like magic of the national traveling Broadway production of "Finding Neverland."
Playing at Salt Lake's Eccles Theater through Dec. 9, Scott Frankel and Michael Korie's musical, with a book written by James Graham, is an adaptation of the 2004 Academy Award-winning film of the same name that unfolds the story behind Scottish author and playwright J.M. Barrie’s illustrious play, "Peter Pan."
The show starts with Barrie, played by the very handsome Jeff Sullivan, stuck not only in his writing but also in his elite, Victorian London society. He doesn’t quite realize the degree to which he is creatively bogged down until he comes across Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, played by Ruby Gibbs, and her four buccaneering boys in the park. As their lives intertwine, their friendships take Barrie's imagination, work and personal life to a fantastical new place — and thanks to the spectacle of this traveling production, the audience gets to come along for the flight.
That being said, the show passed through some initial turbulence before it cleared rough air. One of the microphones wasn’t working during the opening number, production cues needed tightening and though the ensemble’s childlike over-the-top approach to acting was amusing by the end, for a while it felt like a dish that was still thawing. It wasn’t until the number “We Own the Night” about a fourth of the way into the production that the show fully heated up.
“We Own the Night” is a song that invites the characters into a collective imagination at a stuffy dinner party and was the first number to poignantly pull the strengths of the production all into one number: whimsical choreography, blended voices and visual intrigue were rendered beautifully by choreographer Mia Michaels, lighting designer Kenneth Posner and projection designer Jon Driscoll.
From there, the energy and spectacle continued through the show, especially with numbers such as “Circus of Your Mind,” which was like entering a candy shop where the center of everything is black licorice — dark, sweet and memorable. With the clever use of the ensemble, projections and simple props, the production created a rotating human menagerie as Barrie’s life started spinning out of his control. And beyond being a treat for the eyes, between their vocal clarity and their ability to fully embody their characters, Ashley Edler as Mary Barrie, Conor McGiffin as Charles Frohman and Emmanuelle Zeesman as Mrs. du Maurier gave "Circus of Your Mind" a particularly rich savor that pulled the audience along seamlessly.
Similarly engaging were the songs that introduce Peter Pan’s infamous rival and Barrie’s embodiment of his own demons, Captain Hook, played here by Conor McGiffin. You may even find yourself head banging in the middle of this musical, set near the turn of the last century, thanks to the invigorating use of synthesizers and electric guitar during Captain Hook's scenes. They delivered the energy of a rock concert — loudness and intensity included — that left the audience buzzing as the curtain closed for the first act.Comment on this story
Luckily, the momentum wasn’t lost as the show started up after intermission, with the second act easily wrapping the audience up in all of the life and loss it covered. By then the entire cast was hot with excitement and unity, fluidly moving through scenes that appealed to our inner children or duets that pulled at our hearts.
Ultimately, “Finding Neverland” is a show that married together both the aspects of life that give us wings as well as the life events that ground us. And through the production's incredible visual elements and captivating music, it sparked a sense of wonder that will send kids any age soaring to the land of their dreams.
Content advisory: "Finding Neverland" is recommended for ages 7 and older, but is suitable for the whole family.