‘Finding Neverland’ stars TV veteran John Davidson as Captain Hook
The rousing tale of “Finding Neverland” may have entered the mainstream consciousness via the Academy Award-winning film starring Johnny Depp, but its rapidly evolving legacy has lived on since its 2004 theatrical run.
In 2012, the story was adapted into an English musical from Allan Knee’s 1998 play, “The Man Who Was Peter Pan.”
Three years later it crossed the pond and landed on Broadway.
B u t the true roots of the story which recount playwright J.M. Barrie’s creation of Peter Pan — harkens back to the early 1900s. Billy Harrigan Tighe, who portrays Barrie in the musical’s national tour, said he did some light sleuthing on the late playwright and his connection to the inspirational family of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (who is portrayed by Lael Van Keuren), but he didn’t get caught up in the niceties.
“I did a fair amount of research, so I was educated,” Tighe said. “Though, I stayed focused on telling the story we’re telling. I think our show is inspired by the original tale, but wouldn’t say it follows it too closely.”
The biographical fantasy, directed by Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus, might be centered on the beloved children’s story, but Tighe said it’s not solely for the little ones.
“There’s a hesitation when people hear ‘Peter Pan,’” Tighe said. “They see ‘Finding Neverland’ and think, ‘That sounds like a kid’s show and not what I want to do for my date night.’ I get that, but that’s not what we’re doing here.”
While Tighe, 32, said the production delivers plenty for children to engage in, “Finding Neverland” digs deeper into the spirit of the heartening tale.
“Barrie was an adult, going through a really difficult time in his life, when he wrote ‘Peter Pan,’” Tighe said. “He did it to inspire himself and to inspire others. So, when I re-approached Peter Pan as an adult, I learned more about what’s metaphorically going on in the story and all the themes things I didn’t notice as a child.”
As for the dreamlike set, Tighe said it’s a mixed bag of cinematic projections and actual stage magic.
“What they’ve done is create this sort of foot in both worlds,” he explained. “There are moments that allow your creativity to take storm, you envision things that aren’t necessarily there — like the kids flying. Then we also have these lavish, amazing projections and set pieces that transform the world entirely.”
Co-starring in the production is veteran, singer-entertainer, John Davidson, best known for hosting “That’s Incredible!,” “Hollywood Squares” in the ’80s, and the 1991 revival of “The $100,000 Pyramid.”
“I was overjoyed to get the part,” said Davidson, who portrays both the bombastic producer Charles Frohman and the electrifying Captain James Hook. “At my age, to get a 45-week contract is phenomenal. I’ve never had such a great role. I’m 75 and just tearing up the stage and having so much fun.”
Davidson, whose high-profile resume also includes more than 80 guest-host spots on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” started his career on Broadway in the mid-’60s and never lost his desire for the stage.
“The thrill of live theater is hard to turn down, especially with this part,” Davidson said. “Both of my characters drive the show forward — they’re not wallflowers. When I play Charles, the producer, I’m trying to get J.M. Barrie to not write ‘Peter Pan.’ Then, as Captain Hook, I am trying to talk him into it, telling him to find the child within, and to write his own story — not what everyone else is telling you to write. That’s good advice for all of us.”
With more than 50 years of work behind him, Davidson’s longevity is inspiring to his castmates, including Tighe, a Georgia native now living just over the Hudson River in New Jersey. “John Davidson is great,” he said. “He’s got a thousand stories for anything you could possibly ask him about, which is always fun, and I love the youthful energy he brings to the stage.”
Tighe’s big break came in 2013, when he landed a role in the Broadway revival of “Pippin.” Two years later, he got the role of Elder Kevin Price in “The Book of Mormon.” Positive reviews led him to “Finding Neverland.”
It’s his first job as a leading man, but he’s quick to credit the show’s musically-talented young performers.
“What’s really wonderful about this production is the children,” Tighe said. “At the core of our story is a guy who’s found his life in a rut because he’s allowed himself to focus too much on the goals of being an adult. Working with the children is a daily reminder as to what’s most important about our show. They’re full of energy, spontaneity and creativity, and that’s what ‘Finding Neverland’ is all about.”
“Finding Neverland” Dec. 12-17
Wharton Center Cobb Great Hall Tickets from $43 (517) 432-2000 For show times, visit: whartoncenter.com