Finding Neverland In J.M. Barrie

Finding Neverland is a musical that tells the story of how Peter Pan came to be; and the family that inspired the acclaimed children’s book by J.M. Barrie. The musical is based on the movie of the same name and the play The Man Who Was Peter Pan by Allan Knee. The plot follows J.M. Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies family; most importantly, one of the sons Peter. With music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, as well as a book (script) by James Graham, this is the story of ‘Peter Pan’ as you may not have heard it.

The plot of this show is not about Peter Pan, in fact, Peter Pan does not appear until the end of the musical, but the character of Peter plays an important part in this tale. Peter Llewelyn Davies is a young boy who lost his father and he never really recovered from that experience. J.M. Barrie is the man who sees Peter on his own level. Peter has his wonderful mother, Sylvia, but it was J.M. Barrie who helped him move on and start to experience life again. Peter had a special connection with Barrie who he met in the Kensington Gardens one day; a connection that develops as you watch the musical and the relationship with Peter and his brothers unfold. Peter is clearly the boy in this production who inspired the name of the lead in the classic children’s story. Michael Llewelyn Davies is another brother that has his name used in Peter Pan. Michael is Wendy’s youngest brother in the story, and Michael Llewelyn Davies was sick so he couldn’t go to J.M. Barrie’s opening night of Peter Pan, so the parts of the play and the actual set were brought from the London theatre into his bedroom.

One of my favorite things about this piece is that we get an inside look at the life of J.M. Barrie and the neighboring family that he came to love so much. While the Llewelyn Davies family serves as an inspiration for his work, other characters in the musical were initially not so on board with J.M. Barrie and his ideas; such as director/producer Charles Frohman, who later appears in a dream to J.M. Barrie about adding a villain to the show known as Captain Hook. The Llewelyn Davies boys have big imaginations, so they create adventures along with J.M. Barrie.

The music in this show has many connections to the Peter Pan works:  “Believe” encompasses the childlike qualities and message that you have to believe is the real essence of Peter Pan. “Neverland” is the setting of the place where Peter Pan lives, and J.M. Barrie is telling Peter Llewelyn Davies about the world he has created in his imagination. “Circus of Your Mind” is in the middle of the play rehearsal for Peter Pan; it establishes some of the things we see in the Darling house like flying children, dogs wearing aprons and boys who don’t age. The number “Live By the Hook” has Captain Hook talking to J.M. Barrie, and from this song, it is clear how Captain Hook came to be the villain in the story we all know and love. In “The World Is Upside Down” the Llewelyn Davies family is seeing some of what J.M. Barrie has been working on and they have all played a part in the masterpiece; in the number, we learn about how the lost boys in Peter Pan are just completely lost. “What You Mean To Me” is between the boys’ mother Sylvia and J.M. Barrie and fits into Peter Pan with the lyrics “I promise you faith will give you wings, just take the second star on the right straight ahead to till morning light.” Another song with childlike essence is “Play;” in the piece, the adult actors are remembering the times they had when they were children much like Peter Pan, the boy who won’t grow up. The final connection I see is in the song “Neverland (Reprise)” where the acting troupe is performing Peter Pan for Sylvia just before she passes from terminal cancer.

I hope this shines some light on the beautiful piece that is Finding Neverland. If you don’t know the musical, I hope that this inspired you to learn more about it. If you’re like me, and you already do love it, I hope that my thoughts rekindled some of that fantasy for you.

(Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva)