The Tony nominations are out, and (surprise!) Fun Home, An American in Paris and Something Rotten! are tops, pretty much as we predicted. But several shows got the cold shoulder. Side Show, anyone? But one snub was especially obvious: Finding Neverland.
The Harvey Weinstein passion project spent more than a year in development, had multiple creative teams (at one point Weinstein fired everyone and started from scratch), and reportedly had a $6 million advance to cushion its opening. It was even rumored Weinstein would use aggressive campaign tactics, similar to those used for Academy Awards, to secure a Tony. There’s clearly a lot for the Broadway establishment to be leery about.
But it turned out the show just wasn’t that good to begin with. No amount of aggressive campaigning was going to convince the nominators this show deserved a nod—especially not in a crowded field of exceptional shows (I’m looking at you Fun Home and An American in Paris). When I went to see the show with Ross two weeks ago, I could hardly believe I was watching a Broadway show. I’ve resisted writing about it, because I found very few things to like. But in light of this epic snub by the Tony nomination committee, here are my five fatal flaws in Finding Neverland.
1. You call this a score? Did someone resurrect the Beatles and team them up with Katy Perry’s lyricists and then run it through the dull machine? For a show apparently set in the late 1800s, the music felt anachronistic and just downright boring. The closer for Act I, “Stronger,” is a special kind of horror. It was as if the sound guys knew the song was bad, so they pumped up the volume to ear-popping decibels in hopes that you wouldn’t notice. Loud doesn’t equal good. (But I didn’t tell that to the screaming hoards of girls in the audience, hooting in approval after every number. If it weren’t for these Gleeks buying tickets to see Matthew Morrison, Finding Neverland would be staring at a closing date.)
2. Mia Michels, I love you, but stick to So You Think You Can Dance. No, really, I love Mia Michels. When I heard she was the choreographer on this project, I texted Ross in serious glee. But I learned a hard lesson here—what she does on So You Think You Can Dance doesn’t translate to the Broadway stage. Definitely not during the time period the show takes place. I think one critic described the choreography as “19th Century Edwardian Twerking.” Sounds about right. It was all together strange, too much, and out of place.
3. Someone hired a three-year-old with Crayola markers to draw and color the set. No, really. It’s like a coloring book gone awry up there. And what’s with the melting clock, a la Salvador Dali? How could someone like Diane Paulus, who brought us Pippin and Hair, allow this to happen? It’s as if she didn’t trust subtlety.
4. Anachornistic jokes, including an anti-gay one. At one point an actor on stage mouths WTF, which I’m pretty sure was not commonly used back in 1860. Then we get a Cheers joke directed at Kelsey Grammer, which elicits a good 15 to 20 seconds of laughs and applause. Ok, fine. The whole show’s creative bent is not to be aligned with the times. I get it. But when a “fairy” joke is directed at the gays who commonly work in theater, that’s about when I threw in the towel (actually, when I grabbed Ross’ leg). Welcome to 2015, and Broadway, Mr. Weinstein. Jokes like these are completely unacceptable.
5. Don’t blame the talent, blame the material. The talent on the stage is great: Matthew Morrison, Laura Michelle Kelly (Mary Poppins, we need you!) and Kelsey Grammer are working overtime up there to make this train wreck of a show chug along. Not to mention the adorable boys, playing the sons of Sylvia, who steal every scene they’re in. There’s also an enormously talented company to back them up: some very obviously seasoned dancers, comedic actors and lovely voices. But the talent here is infinitely better than the material. The book writer, James Graham, desperately wants you to cry, so he’s built in at least two false endings to get your tear ducts working. The dialog is wooden and predictable, so much so that you almost long for a syrupy faux-pop song to cue up. We’re constantly distracted by noise and strange choreography (and whirlwinds of pixie dust), that we’re never allowed to simply be with a character and his feelings. It’s as if the creative team didn’t trust the audience. Paulus should have taken a page from her show’s own advice: At one point Morrison’s character coaxes an actor to “go smaller.” I would have appreciated a much smaller, intimate experience.