When we think of the great stage directors names like Elia Kazan, Tyrone Guthrie, and Julie Taymor come up. Here’s another to make sure you put on the list: Diane Paulus.
At the Orpheum you must catch the tour of her Broadway hit, Finding Neverland. It explores J.M. Barrie’s creative process when he wrote Peter Pan for the stage around the turn of the last century. Paulus interprets the musical’s powerful ideas vividly with an acting style that sleekly reflects the British stiff upper lip and the human spirit sometimes suffocating beneath its surface. Moreover, her unity of production elements is simply ravishing.
Through his creative process Barrie paradoxically rediscovers the child within him and in doing so becomes a more mature grown man. Few stage works have ever accomplished this phenomenon as richly as Finding Neverland.
Some will understandably chafe at this idea because “The Child Within” has been trivialized by psychobabble and dubious new-agey cliches. We should be skeptical. However, in fairness, there have been thoughtful psychological inquiries about the Peter Pan archetype that acknowledge the importance of retaining a sense of joy as we age and not lose a capacity for lightness of being. I submit that Finding Neverland falls within this preferable category: this is what the musical’s book writer James Graham and composer-lyricists Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy seem to have very much in mind. This is a musical with a profoundly legitimate assertion for our time. To point: gloominess and depression abjectly affect our well-being. A little pixie dust and a friendship with Tinker Bell is sometimes just what we need!
In service of this great point is the lead performance by the bedazzling Billy Harrigan Tighe as playwright Barrie. When Fate leads him to four boys whose father has recently died it strangely synchronizes with profit-driven demands thrust upon him by a theater producer (a vibrant John Davidson who doubles deliciously as Captain Hook). Adding dimension is the boys’ grieving, as well as ailing mother, Sylvia (an iridescent Lael Van Keuren).
Paulus has marshaled some exquisite production elements. Jon Driscoll’s projections of misty London blend and cohere with Scott Pask’s imaginative set and Suttirat Anne Larlarb’s perfect costumes beautifully. Mia Michaels’s choreography is crisp, celebrative of life, and at points surreal. Karen Murphy delights with a Dame Edith Evans edge to Mrs. Du Maurier and numinously reveals her character subtly shifting into higher consciousness. Dwelvan David will make you chuckle as the oh-so-urbane Mr. Henshaw.
Through Nov. 5
Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis