Finding Neverland Musical Will Get London Industry Presentation With Julian Ovenden and Jenna Russell

By Kenneth Jones
November 22, 2011

Finding Neverland, the American musical about the family that inspired J.M. Barrie to write his "Peter Pan" stories, will resurface in a London reading in December.



Julian Ovenden of Off-Broadway's Death Takes a Holiday will play Scottish playwright Barrie. Jenna Russell, the 2008 Tony Award nominee of Sunday in the Park With George, will play Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the ailing mother whose family touched Barrie uniquely. Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet played the roles in the 2004 film of the same name.

Weinsten Live Entertainment was to partner with the La Jolla Playhouse for a fall 2011 world premiere in California, but Weinstein "elected not to go forward with the planned production at the Playhouse," La Jolla Playhouse previously announced.

Finding Neverland has a score by Grey Gardens Tony nominees Scott Frankel (music) and Michael Korie (lyrics) and a book by Allan Knee, who drew from his play The Man Who Was Peter Pan, which was adapted into the film "Finding Neverland."

The London industry presentation is directed and choreographed by Tony winner Rob Ashford (Thoroughly Modern Millie, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying).

The producers are now hoping for a 2012 world premiere in the U.K. The musical — punctuated with fantasy elements, including flying — will be seen in two London workshop presentations on Dec. 12. The goal is a regional U.K. launch followed by a West End run, a spokesperson for Weinstein Live Entertainment told Playbill.com. (Given Barrie's Scottish roots, and the popularity of Peter Pan in England, London would seem to be a naturally hospitable launching pad for Finding Neverland.)

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Finding Neverland had a developmental reading presentation March 31, 2011, in Manhattan. The cast included 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 was originally slated to present the show Nov. 8-Dec. 11, but that did not materialize.

Korie and Frankel 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 previously characterized 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 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. He was Oscar-nominated for his adaptation. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture.

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.