'Finding Neverland' delivers mid-winter magic

Keeping to the true spirit of the original play, “Finding Neverland” relies on inventive set pieces, songs and costumes to give vitality to the story of the real-life Peter Pan. The scene at left, takes place on the high seas aboard a ship with pirates. PHOTOS BY JEREMY DANIEL

2018. A brand new year. A time when many people seize destiny by the throat in order to make sweeping course corrections in their lives. Now marks the moment for setting aside the frivolity of the holidays in favor of grown-up resolutions and routines. Goodbye wassail and gingerbread. Hello, steamed broccoli and chicken breasts. January yanks us back to the real world grind of winter, work and the dreaded, looming inevitability of swimsuit weather.

It's all far too bleak, which is why “Finding Neverland” might be the most aptlytimed play of the Texas Performing Arts season. Based on the award-winning movie of the same title, “Finding Neverland” reminds us why we should always chase our dreams while remaining young at heart.

“Finding Neverland,” directed by Tonywinner Diane Paulus, follows the real-life relationship between J. M. Barrie and the family who would go on to inspire “Peter Pan: The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up,” an enduring and beloved children's classic.

“It's the best parts of the movie,” said Thomas Miller, who plays Elliot in “Finding Neverland.” “It's the same story, but the music really enhances the story. The musical is more bright and family-friendly.”

Miller, a recent BFA graduate from Texas State University's Musical Theatre Department, embarks on his National Tour Debut, fulfilling one of his lifelong goals and childhood dreams.

“When I moved to Texas is when I started doing theater,” Miller said. “I was 13, and thought, 'I love doing this more than anything else in my life. This is it, this is what I want to keep doing.'”

And so he did. Miller, who cut his vocal chops by singing each week in an a Capella church in Houston, continued to pursue his dream, which eventually led him to Texas State. Miller went on to attribute his readiness for touring to his courses at TSU.

“I had the best experience at Texas State,” Miller said. “I feel like it prepared me for tour really well because Texas State's program is unique – in the whole country, really – because it definitely uses a holistic approach. They don't just try to size you up and put you in a box. They take all your skills and talents and consider who you are as a person. They work with you from that. It really helps in the role I'm playing in the show. It's very close to me and close to who I am as a person.”

Turner Birthisel, Tyler Patrick Hennessy, Colin Wheeler and Conner Jameson Casey as the Davies children that inspired the Lost Boys in the Peter Pan story.

In “Finding Neverland,” the main character, author and playwright J. M. Barrie, befriends the widowed Sylvia Davies and her four sons. As Barrie becomes more entwined in the lives of Davies and her boys, they begin to foster each other's imaginations, eventually coaxing even the most reluctant – Davies' middle son, Peter – to overcome the grief of his father's death. This becomes the backdrop of Barrie's play featuring four lost boys who never wish to become men.

According to Miller, CGI effects show what happens in J. M. Barrie's imagination during the movie. But perhaps in keeping to the true spirit of the original play, “Finding Neverland” relies on inventive set pieces, songs and costumes to give vitality to the story of the real-life Peter Pan.

“We really get to play that up in the musical,” Miller enthused. “At the end of the first act, there's a scene with high seas and pirates. I don't want to give anything away. But it's pretty amazing.”

With enthusiasm brimming, Miller went on to express his feelings about performing at Bass Concert Hall during the play's run in Austin.

“I'm excited to perform again in Texas,” Miller said. “I'm excited now because my little brother is doing the same thing I did, following in my footsteps. He's a junior at Texas State in the Musical Theater program. I'm excited that he and his friends get to come to Austin and see the show.”

Christine Dwyer as Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in "Finding Neverland."

With his strong focus on family, on the pursuit of big dreams, and gratitude for what he's been given, Miller embodies the essence of “Finding Neverland,” serving as a reminder that though the new year has begun, we should continue to enjoy life with the earnestness of a child.

Catch “Finding Neverland” in Austin at the Bass Concert Hall Tuesday – Friday, Jan. 16-19, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and on Sunday, Jan. 21 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets start at $30 and are available at BroadwayinAustin.com, texasperformingarts.org, the Bass Concert Hall ticket office, and all Texas Box Office Outlets, by phone at 512-477-6060.

“It's the same story, but the music really enhances the story. The musical is more bright and family-friendly.”

 

***UPDATE:  Due to inclement weather, The University of Texas at Austin campus will be closed on Tuesday, January 16. Consequently, the Jan. 16, 8 p.m. performance of "Finding Neverland" at Bass Concert Hall has been cancelled.

Tickets purchased through Texas Performing Arts at the Bass Concert Hall or Frank Erwin Center Ticket Offices, online at texasperformingarts.org or by phone at 512-477-6060, may be exchanged for a future performance of Finding Neverland. To request a refund or exchange, please call the Bass Concert Hall Ticket Office at 512-471-1444 or email tickets@texasperformingarts.org. Exchanges must be processed at least four hours in advance of the new performance.
Subscribers should call the Subscriber Hotline at 800-731-7469 (Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) to complete refund or exchange requests.

ALL single ticket purchase and subscriber requests for exchanges or refunds must be completed by Friday, Jan. 19 at 5 p.m.

 

San Marcos Daily Record

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P.O. Box 1109, San Marcos, TX 78666