I have often taken issue with movies being adapted into musicals for the stage. At best, the efforts are forced and, at worst, they are shameless money grabs.
But then along comes an exception to my rule. The delightful “Finding Neverland,” now playing through Dec. 18, at the Fox Theatre, actually improves upon the movie it was based on. Will wonders never cease?
Both the movie and the musical “Finding Neverland” focus on the life of Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie (Kevin Kern), who is best known for creating the character Peter Pan.
Where the movie, which starred Johnny Depp, was a little dry and a little dour, the musical production is a lively tribute to the power of imagination and the triumphs of the creative process.
When we meet Barrie, he is already an established playwright in desperate need of a hit, a fact his stern, but good-natured producer Charles Frohman (a scene-stealing Tom Hewitt) likes to remind him of.
One day while in the park, Barrie makes the acquaintance of a young widow, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (Christine Dwyer), and her four boys, George (Finn Faulconer), Jack (Mitchell Wray), Michael (Jordan Cole), and Peter (Eli Tokash).
Barrie is immediately taken with the family, especially the boys as he quickly joins in their rambunctious games while pretending to be pirates or adventurers.
Barrie’s connection with the family and his general behavior is looked down upon by polite society, especially his wife Mary (Crystal Kellogg) and Sylvia’s mother Mrs. Du Maurier (Joanna Glushak).
But Barrie flouts convention as his ideas for a new play featuring a boy who would never grow up begins to take shape with constant inspiration coming from the boys, particularly the thoughtful and sensitive Peter.
The songs in “Finding Neverland” are all solid but aren’t particularly memorable. But what this show does — and all others should take note of — is when lacking blockbuster tunes, make up for it with spectacular visuals and a whole lot of energy.
The songs “Play” and “We Own the Night” feature plenty of dancing and spirit from the cast that brings a lot of joy to the forefront of the production.
Other numbers feature creative staging or awe-inspiring set design. “Circus of Your Mind” features Kern navigating a revolving doorway of rejection. The act-ending “Stronger” has a pirate ship assemble before your eyes. Even a simple duet like “What You Mean to Me” becomes a wonder to watch with the simple use of the actors’ shadows splayed across the back wall of the stage.
“Finding Neverland” is a blast to watch, especially after my initial doubts about yet another screen-to-stage adaptation. Sometimes it is a whole lot of fun to be proven wrong.
“Finding Neverland” is playing now through Dec. 18, at the Fox Theatre. For tickets, call 314-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.