Dallas — Finding Neverland, coming to the AT&T Performing Arts Center Broadway Series July 11 through 23, is based on the bittersweet-but-true tale of how British playwright J.M. Barrie came to write Peter Pan. Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family was more than just a friendship—it inspired the play that started Peter Pan down the path to becoming a household name.
We sat down with Broadway veteran John Davidson, who has just joined the national tour to play American producer Charles Frohman, and Christine Dwyer, who plays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, to talk about their roles, what makes the show a standout, and what it’s really like to work with six child actors eight days a week.
TheaterJones: What has it been like for John to join the cast?
Christine Dwyer: It’s been super fun bringing him on board. I mean, I grew up with his speaking voice on my television, so it’s been really cool to do scenes with him and hear it live. He’s just lovely. And he has a big role, but he’s really going for it physically and vocally. He’s nailing it.
John Davidson: It’s quite a show. I start right off in the first scene, and it’s a full evening’s work. I’m so grateful for this part, being in my 70s I can’t believe I’m still working and having such a great role. In the cast everyone else is under 30—I’m enjoying the seniority very much. The cast is just exceptional, first-rate Broadway talent.
What have been your biggest challenges with this show so far, John?
JD: First of all, one thing that is NOT a challenge is the fact that I’m the only one with an American accent. I’m the only American in the show so that makes that easy. Of course as Captain Hook, you’re doing sort of a fake Shakespearian, sort of a cartoony English accent. Being able to play Hook and producer Charles Frohman is fun, but the physicality of Hook is a lot. Doing this show eight times a week is going to be a challenge.
What about you, Christine? This show has some new experiences for you as well.
CD: I’ve never opened a tour before, so that’s really fun. But it’s cool because I’m actually playing opposite the actor who played my Fiero on tour [with Wicked]. Billy Tighe and I were in the ensemble together, then we moved into the roles [of Fiero and Elphaba] together. And now he’s J.M. Barrie, and I always like to tell him that now he’s doing all the work. I had to do all the work on the last tour, but now I only have the one big song and a duet, so we kind of have switched roles, so I’m not as stressed out and tired as I was on that tour.
This is just a completely different kind of a vocal part for me too, so that’s been really fun. Sylvia is a little bit older and she has a lot more control over her emotions. I like to say that Elphaba was of the earth, and Sylvia is of the sky, because she has her head up in the clouds in a really beautiful way. She doesn’t let too much negativity affect her, and she’s always looking at the bright side of things.
Do you have any favorite moments in the show that you enjoy every night?
JD: Playing Hook is a lot of fun, to be outrageous and just let it go. He just chews up the stage. The show is very well-written, and the scenes are very playable. I love that in every scene I have great objectives. In some shows, what you’re trying to accomplish just isn’t really that important, but in this, in every scene, it’s very clear what Frohman is trying to accomplish and what he’s trying to convince Barrie to do.
CD: I really like the song “Believe.” It’s the first one where Barrie and Sylvia really get to sing together and they sort of become this little family in that song. She runs into him in the park for a second time, and they use that song to build Peter’s spirits up. By the end of the song, everyone’s dancing around, the whole ensemble comes out, and it’s really fun because as the song goes on we create these images and pictures that come to life. It’s the first time we see them truly connect, and it’s the first time we see Barrie connect with her kids as they become this little unit.
Has it been a lot of fun working with the child actors?
JD: They’re really well trained, very good and consistent. They just nail it every show, both vocally and acting-wise. They’re great kids. It is a lot to ask of kids to be around adults so much, but I think they've benefitted from that.
CD: Working with the kids is amazing, it’s actually the best part of the job. I think as adult actors we tend to get in our heads a lot, and want things to be perfect. We kind of look inward a lot for what we perform. I think it’s special to be on stage with a bunch of kids—you’re inspired to let that stuff go and be in the present moment, because they always are. If something is different on stage, they just roll with it in a way that adult actors usually can’t.
We have six boys who travel with us, and four that are onstage at any given time. So depending on my actual personal relationship with those boys, my show changes every day with every performance, which is something that I’ve never experienced before.
What do you feel makes the show special?
JD: Finding Neverland had its run in New York and was very successful, but then the director wanted to make some changes in it. There is a new opening and new closing to the show, and a new musical number—the show has really had a rebirth and it’s even better than it was on Broadway. I think it works even better outside of New York because it’s a family show. The music is more British pop, and every scene has a hit record in it. It’s a very melodic score, and that’s what I love about it. You’ll walk out singing the tunes, and it’s just a great story.
CD: I’ve never really been in a period piece like this, and I’ve never played anyone who actually existed. So it’s been really interesting to do the research on [Sylvia Llewelyn Davies]. But she was kind of a rebel of the time period, really. We find out in the beginning of the show that her husband has passed away, and instead of remarrying like you would have done at that time, she decided to throw her focus all on her kids and make sure they had a normal childhood. She was ahead of her time in a really cool way. And she is a huge reason why Barrie is able to find his imagination again.
Finding Neverland is, at its core, a heartwarming, family-feeling show. There is something for everyone—we have the spectacle and the big dance numbers, but at its core it’s about friendships and family, and meeting those people who inspire you to change your life. It’s about finding that inner child again that we lose as adults.
JD: Yes, there are two great themes in Finding Neverland that I didn’t realize last year when I saw it for the first time. One is that every creative person has to find the child inside them. Anyone who is creating something will do better if you can remember how to be free like that and be in awe of everything.
The second theme is that a man who is not willing to fight for what he wants deserves what he gets. If you want to just be like everyone expects you to be, life will be more comfortable. But if you can find the courage to fight for what you want, and write your own story—like Barrie did with Peter Pan—you’ll find more.
» Join ATTPAC and TheaterJones for Industry Night at Finding Neverland. It's Tuesday, July 18 at 7:30. Tickets are $30 or $60, and you'll get a VIP lanyard for entry into the pre-show and intermission VIP area. Then there's a post-show party with members of the cast. We'll have swag and ticket giveaways, including the grand prize of a set of tickets to the Industry Nights of every show in the 2017-18 Broadway series. See the Industry Night Facebook page here; and purchase tickets online here.