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'Finding Neverland' review: Kelsey Grammer, Matthew Morrison in not-quite-magical 'Peter Pan' tale

Matthew Morrison (center) and Kelsey Grammer (Captain Hook,

Matthew Morrison (center) and Kelsey Grammer (Captain Hook, front right) with the ensemble of"Finding Neverland." Credit: Carol Rosegg

Now that we know how Elphaba became the Wicked Witch of the West, shouldn't Broadway also tell us how Peter became Pan?

And so we have "Finding Neverland," the musical adaptation of the 2004 Johnny Depp movie about playwright J.M. Barrie when he met the fatherless boys who inspired his 1904 play and the ongoing industry known as "Peter Pan."

For a show about releasing the imagination, the musical is surprisingly conventional -- a down-the-middle family entertainment with excellent actors, including Matthew Morrison as Barrie and Kelsey Grammer as his crusty producer, as well as sturdy storytelling that recreates the movie with dogged fidelity. Directed by Diane Paulus, who exploded "Pippin" with astonishing circus spectacle, the production has a low-wattage wow factor that, though admirably true to the Edwardian period, mostly misses the chance to transform the fantasies in Barrie's mind with 21st century magic.

Given the high-profile four-year history of the project, one may be forgiven for expecting something more than poignant pleasantries with brand appeal. As everyone in the entertainment world knows by now, this has been a rough birth. It's Harvey Weinstein's Broadway debut as a lead producer, and the movie mogul fired the entire cast and creative team after a 2012 opening in England.

The straightforward book, now written by James Graham with a few ill-advised jokey anachronisms, frames the story in Barrie's memory. Morrison -- a major Broadway talent before the world knew him as Mr. Schue from "Glee" -- has a beard and a three-piece suit and an endearing playfulness as yet-another sensitive father figure.

Barrie, a popular playwright with a snotty social-climbing wife (Teal Wicks) and a career that has hit a creative wall, finds youthful inspiration, and true love, in a chance park-bench encounter with a widow (the lovely Laura Michelle Kelly) and her four sons. He takes special interest in Peter (Aidan Gemme at the performance I attended), sober with grieving after his father's death.

Grammer gets all the best lines and delightfully makes the most of them as the theater producer who, after his cane casts a nicely creepy shadow as a hook, reappears in Barrie's imagination as Captain Hook. Designer Scott Pask's fantasy scenes -- except for a beautiful sparkly death scene for a beloved parent -- have an intentional homemade quality, while Mia Michaels' peculiar choreography traps high society in grotesque jerky cavorting.

Brit pop composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy offer serviceable songs with elementary structures and rhymes we can sing before we hear them. As Barrie tells the boys, "You can be anything you want to be/you can go anywhere you want to see." It is a good message, but not quite a magical one.


WHERE Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St.

INFO $72-$147; 877-250-2929;

BOTTOM LINE Down-the-middle family show.

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