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Theater doesn’t always gel, even in the strongest of hands. We learn that lesson – in myriad ways, during the new musical “Finding Neverland,” now at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. The first time is early on within the show, as we discover that “The Wedding Party,” the latest work by the usually acclaimed Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie (Matthew Morrison), has simply failed to grip early 20th-century London audiences the way his previous successes had.

The last time, more sadly, is during the final bows of this clearly well-intentioned yet ultimately unremarkable tuner. While the show has been guided by the brilliant film mogul Harvey Weinstein and directed with care, intelligence, and a few flourishes of genuine theatrical magic by Tony Award winner Diane Paulus, it never really takes flight or finds its true voice.

In part, book writer James Graham simply tries to juggle a few too many stories. Is the musical about Barrie’s attempt to resurrect his possibly fading-career by writing what would become “Peter Pan” after interacting with the family of the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies (the lovely Laura Michele Kelley) whom he meets in Kensington Gardens? Is it about how Barrie teaches Sylvia’s shy young son Peter (Aidan Demme and Jackson Demont Hill, alternating in the role) to overcome the death of his father and find his own voice as a writer? Is it about the doomed romance of J.M and Sylvia, which blossoms into full flower somewhat suddenly after Barrie’s snooty wife Mary (a wasted Teal Wicks) leaves him? All of the above and none of the above.

Moreover, “Finding Neverland” hands over large chunks of time to Barrie’s American producer Charles Frohman, played with sly irascibility by the crowd-pleasing Kelsey Grammer. Without question, Frohman is certainly a colorful character; but he’s at best a supporting player in the story, and this production practically makes him the star. And since Grammer can barely handle a tune, handing him vocal parts in half a dozen of Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy’s score is not all that wise. (It’s also slightly criminal, given that the magnificent Carolee Carmello, who shines in the almost thankless role of Sylvia’s concerned, conventional mother, doesn’t even rank a solo!)

Hiring Barlow (a member of the popular British boy band Take That) and Kennedy to write their first musical theater score also proves to be a calculated risk that never fully pays off. Their music can be, at times, quite pretty (“Neverland”), suitably theatrical (“Circus of Your Mind”), and even reasonably inspirational (“Believe”), but it too often fails to move the plot or define character as it should. And it says something that the standard nursery rhymes used in “Play,” a delightful frolic for the members of Barrie’s petty-minded acting troupe, come off as the best lyrics in the show.

That second-act number also gives “So You Can Dance” veteran Mia Michaels her ripest opportunity to show off her choreographic skills, modern-minded as they be. And while Morrison gives a gorgeously disciplined performance as Barrie, you can practically feel him jumping out of his skin wanting to utilize his well-known dance moves. True, his restlessness fits the role of a man who is truly the boy who won’t grow up, but you wish this talented actor had found a better fit for his talents (and his first Broadway appearance in seven years) than “Finding Neverland.”

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Matthew Morrison, Kelsey Grammer, Laura Michelle Kelly, Carolee Carmello, Teal Wicks, Alex Dreier, Aidan Gemme, Jackson DeMott Hill, Noah Hinsdale, Sawyer Nunes, Chris Richards, Hayden Signoretti

Open/Close Dates
Opening 4/15/2015
Closing 8/21/2016

Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 3/15/2015
Closing Open-ended

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Theatre Info
Lunt-Fontanne Theatre
205 West 46th Street
New York, NY 10036