Finding Neverland, the Musical, Gets NYC Presentation With Kelli O'Hara and Julian Ovenden

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31 Mar 2011

Julian Ovenden
Julian Ovenden

Before it flies to its fall world premiere at La Jolla Playhouse in California, the musical Finding Neverland will get its latest developmental reading presentation March 31 in Manhattan, Playbill.com has learned.

Presented by Weinstein Live Entertainment, which is attached to the potential commercial future of the project, this reading (open to industry only) has a cast including British star Julian Ovenden, Tony Award nominee Kelli O'Hara, Tony Roberts, Mary Beth Peil, Michael Cumpsty, Meredith Patterson and more.

Casting for readings does not necessarily reflect casting for future full productions. The not-for-profit La Jolla Playhouse has not yet announced casting for its Nov. 8-Dec. 11 staging in California.

Tony Award winner Rob Ashford, whose How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying just opened on Broadway, directs and choreographs Finding Neverland.

The show, inspired by the 2004 Miramax film of the same name, has a libretto by Allan Knee, music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie. Knee wrote the book to Broadway's Little Women musical. His play, The Man Who Was Peter Pan, inspired the Academy Award-nominated "Finding Neverland."



Korie and Frankel were Tony Award-nominated for their score for Grey Gardens. They also wrote the musical Happiness, produced by Lincoln Center Theater. They are also working on a musical version of the film "Far From Heaven."

Here's how La Jolla Playhouse characterizes Finding Neverland: "The pressure is on for Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie — his last play was an abysmal failure and his career is threatened by crippling writers block. In the nick of time, a chance meeting in a London park with a woman and her spirited young boys provides just the inspiration he needs. ..This world premiere musical tells the enchanting story of the real boys who inspired a literary masterpiece."

The earlier play and movie focus on "Peter Pan" creator James M. Barrie and his fixation on the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (played by Kelli O'Hara in a 2009 reading, as well) and her four boys, who helped inspire the classic tale of the boy who wouldn't grow up.

The Man Who Was Peter Pan was lauded by critics when it played an Off-Off-Broadway showcase run in 1998. The play caught the eye and ear of Miramax and its producer Harvey Weinstein, who bought the rights to turn it into a movie. Knee wrote two drafts of a screenplay for "Finding Neverland," but Miramax opted to used screenwriter David Magee instead.

Those who thought the movie would be a family-friendly picture about the making of Peter Pan were surprised to find themselves watching a three-hankie weeper that embraced the idea that art and theatre are powerful forces in a miserable world. It's also about the making of Peter Pan.

Following the success of the picture (which starred Johnny Depp as Scottish playwright-novelist J.M. Barrie), Weinstein invited Knee to write a draft of a musical libretto with no restrictions about cast size or approach, except that no one — Knee included — wanted a word-for-word version of the earlier play or screenplay.

"The soul of the movie is adaptable but it really has to be about reinventing the movie and the play into a new experience," Knee previously told Playbill.com.

In writing the libretto, Knee said he did more research than he did when he wrote the source play more than a decade ago.