The musical Finding Neverland is to be overhauled — again — before it flies into the West End.
The show — based on the novel by Allan Knee and the film that starred Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp, about J. M. Barrie’s inspiration for writing Peter Pan — has been through at least three iterations since it was launched five years ago in Leicester, where it was a disaster.
The show then ran on Broadway, and is now in Los Angeles, during a U.S. tour.
It was due to have opened in London this summer, but for a variety of reasons has been postponed. It’s hoped it will be ready for 2018, or early the following year.
Actors Kelsey Grammer and Matthew Morrison perform with the cast of ‘Finding Neverland’ onstage at the 2015 Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 7, 2015
After Leicester, Gary Barlow and playwright James Graham were contracted to revamp Neverland, and to a certain degree they have succeeded. At least there are now some hum-able songs — four of which I like a lot.
But Barlow and Graham are going to be asked to work even harder: to come up with some new numbers, and to rewrite and sharpen the show’s book, paying particular attention to removing any Americanisms that would stick in the craw of British audiences.
There’s also the delicate nature of the relationship between Barrie and the Llewelyn Davies boys (who prompted him to write Peter Pan), and how to put that across without it seeming creepy.
The elaborate staging by director Diane Paulus and strangely out-of-keeping choreography by Mia Michaels (I grimaced at each and every dance step she created) are likely to be ditched.
It’s not yet known whether the pair would remain with a London production, or be replaced.
One suggestion would be to bring in a British ‘show doctor’ to work alongside Ms Paulus. Frasier star Kelsey Grammer, who had the joint role of Barrie’s producer, Charles Frohman, and Captain Hook in the Broadway show, told me: ‘The plan had been to open in London this year, but they’re going to work on some changes and I’m hoping I’ll be in London with Finding Neverland next year.’
Neverland’s producer, Harvey Weinstein, could not be reached for comment.
However, I do know that he liked The Girls musical (another Barlow project) which opened to acclaim and rave notices at the Phoenix Theatre in London last week.
Over a seven-day period, The Girls took in a staggering £1 million at the box office, breaking all previous Phoenix Theatre records.
There’s chatter that Weinstein might meet with Tim Firth, The Girls’ director, writer and collaborator (with Barlow) on songs, to seek advice about Neverland.
It certainly couldn’t hurt. They need to find that second star on the right. Otherwise there’s little point in bringing the show to the West End.
OSCAR SUCCESS FOR BRAD PITT
Brad Pitt and his colleagues Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner, from his Plan B production company, have won two best picture Oscars — for 12 Years A Slave and now Moonlight.
Kleiner joined forces with Barry Jenkins and producer Adele Romanski and took the project to independent studio A24, who backed it to the hilt; while in the UK Altitude Films took up a movie that few had the guts to touch.
JOAN OF ARC WILL ROCK YOU
David Byrne’s rock musical Joan Of Arc: Into The Fire opens in New York on March 15
David Byrne’s rock musical Joan Of Arc: Into The Fire is an incendiary piece of theatre that’s likely to resonate powerfully after it opens officially at New York’s Public Theater on March 15.
I caught a preview of the show, for which the former Talking Heads frontman wrote the book, music and lyrics.
It is staged in part like a rock concert, and the tremendous guitar riffs are still playing in my head — along with a vision, never to be forgotten, of actress Jo Lampert (who portrays the Maid of Orleans as an androgynous warrior) being stripped down to her muslin scanties, lifted up and rotated by a phalanx of men as they examine her to determine not just her gender, but whether or not she’s ‘pure’ enough to be a vessel for spiritual visions. I was reminded of male politicians during the U.S. elections, debating who should have control over women’s bodies.
And, of course, the fear that still exists about a woman being in charge — which could be why America voted for a male buffoon rather than a woman with proven leadership qualities.
Byrne, director Alex Timbers and choreographer Steven Hoggett, are still fine-tuning. But I liked what I saw, and worry that if they polish it too much, it will lose its raw, dangerous edge.
There’s terrific work from Ms Lampert, Mike McGowan, Michael James Shaw, Kyle Selig, Mare Winningham and a crack ensemble. I’m looking forward to seeing it again.
TARAJI WOWS THE RED CARPET
Taraji P. Henson
Taraji P. Henson sashayed onto the Oscar red carpet, looking a million dollars (and then some) in a figure-hugging midnight-blue velvet Alberta Ferretti gown.
My eyes nearly popped out when she kicked out her leg, glistening thanks to some kind of gold-flecked potion.
‘You’re not a Hidden Figure in that dress, baby!’ I said (risking a reference to her Oscar-nominated film).
And she turned her head my way and favoured me with a high-wattage smile of satisfaction.