Sunday, April 15, 2018

Finding Neverland


In 2014, we were fortunate to see “Finding Neverland” at its U.S. premiere in Cambridge, Mass., and I fell in love with the show. Since then, it has been modified, moved to Broadway, where it ran for 17 months and was nominated for Drama Desk, Drama League and Astaire awards. Now it is on a national tour and the California Musical Theatre opened its production this week. I still love the show.

There was loud applause before anybody had even appeared on stage, when a brightly flashing light, which didn’t need to be identified to anybody, started dancing around the curtain and the audience. Tinker Bell was welcoming us to the show.

“Finding Neverland” is the story of how the classic book, “Peter Pan,” came to be written and is loosely based on the 2004 Johnny Depp movie. J.M. Barrie (Will Ray) is portrayed as a successful playwright, unhappily married to a social climber (Janine DiVita). He is suffering from writer’s block. His producer, Charles Frohman (John Davidson, who later appears as Captain Hook) needs a new show now and Barrie has run dry.

While wandering London’s Kensington Park, looking for inspiration, he meets the Llewelyn-Davies brothers, George (Colin Wheeler), Peter (Turner Birthisel), Jack (Bergman Freedman) and Michael (Tyler Patrick Hennessy). (Each of the roles is triple cast; these were the children who played them on opening night.) He is drawn into the games of fantasy of three of the brothers, and particularly taken with the sadness of Peter, who has lost the ability to enjoy life, due to the recent death of his father.

A friendship with the boys and with their mother Sylvia (Lael Van Keuren) develops and as he learns what it is to be a child again, his creative juices start flowing once more as he imagines what it would be like if boys never had to grow up.

There is also a harridan of a grandmother, Mrs. du Maurier (Karen Murphy), determined to run her daughter’s life, a wonderful performance by Karl Skyler Urban, who makes the most of the small role of servant, and an outstanding performance by Sammy, a superb theater dog who played Porthos.

Though there is great sadness in the story, it is smoothed over by the music and the crisp, often intricate choreography (such as the “Dinner Party,” with dancing around, over and under the long dining room table). There are some simple scenes that are downright brilliant, such as the simple love song between Barry an Sylvia on an almost-empty stage with large shadows providing the only extraneous thing. Beautiful.

The musical also has its share of humor. “Do you know any fairies?” one of the boys asks one of Barrie’s somewhat effeminate actors. “My good lad, I work in the theater!” he answers, as the audiences roars.

The first act, of necessity, may run a little long due to having to get all those plot points in and bring in all the inspirations for the later play (like the handle of a threatening cane turning into Hook’s hook). But the first-act finale will blow your socks off.

By the time Act 2 rolls around, rehearsal for the play is in full swing and the action is swift and dizzying. A particularly wonderful song is “We Own the Night,” sung by the four boys on a makeshift stage with blankets forming the backdrop and wooden boxes making a stage.

The final dress rehearsal, performed in the boys’ bedroom for Sylvia, too sick to attend a performance, is lovely and as Sylvia passes into her own Neverland, the special effects are dazzling.

Performances, music, choreography and technical expertise come together to make this a magical evening for both adults and children (over the age of 4) alike.


Sunday, April 08, 2018

Dry Powder


The program for Sarah Burgess’ “Dry Powder,” newly opened at B Street theater, contains a one page glossary for many of the terms used in the Wall Street-based play.  Things like LPs (Limited Partners), IPO (Initial Public Offering), and Dry Powder (amount of cash reserves or liquid assets available to a private equity firm).

Critics get a packet in which there are five pages in the glossary, which gives you the idea of what an insider-rich play this is.

The action centers around KMM Capital Management, which is in the business of overhauling businesses (“buy companies, increase their value, then exit”).

Things get complicated, but what makes this production extraordinary is the first rate cast of B Street regulars.  If you want to insure a top notch production, cast Dave Perini, Melinda Parrett, and Jason Kuykendall.  This year B Street has added Jahi Kearse as another regular and it’s easy to see why.

We first meet Perini as Rick, the head of a Wall Street firm who has just received news that one of his best customers is moving his business elsewhere following a lavish engagement party (there was really only ONE elephant) Rick held at the same time the company was announcing layoffs at a grocery store chain it had bought.  Rick is nearly suicidal.  Jenny (Parrett) is there to literally talk him off the ledge while Seth (Kuykendall) arrives with a brilliant idea for taking on a new business.  He has been sweet talking the head of a luggage business (Kearse as Jeff).

(With all the on-stage costume changes, meetings over cocktails, etc., kudos are deserved by the unnamed technician who so smoothly wheels costume racks in and out and mixes drinks for whoever needs them)

Jenny and Seth have different ideas about the new merger.  His is in keeping with the desires of Jeff and will keep business in the US and ensure that his employees will keep heir jobs.  Hers fires all the employees, ships the business overseas and makes lots of money for everyone.  Her plan also threatens the merger completely, since Jeff is so dedicated to the fate of his employees.

The back and forth among all the characters is perhaps predictable, if the solution is not, but it is the acting that raises this dramady above average.

Perini is perfect as the mercurial Rick, Parrett plays one of the ice queen roles that she does so perfectly, while balancing on impossibly high heels–it’s all the bottom line, and who cares about the little people hurt in the process?  Kuykendall is the guy with the morals, who cares about what happens to everyone, who wants to be fair to the luggage company, while still saving KMM, just not as grandly as Parrett’s proposal.  Kearse is the guy caught in the middle, between his devotion to his employees and the lure of the big bucks.

Kuykendall and Parrett have a hilarious argument which descends to who had the higher G.M.A.T. score (the business school entry exam).

The bottom line of this play is...the bottom line...and learning that most of the folks who work in the business world are more interested in higher finance than the well-being of the little man who got them where they are.