A Night with Matthew Morrison: “Finding Neverland” preview (March 18, 2015)

It’s been six weeks since I experienced Neverland, so I guess it’s time I finally tell you all about it!

A couple months ago, I realized that the first week of previews for Finding Neverland coincided with Spring Break at work, so I made a decision to fly out to New York for a few days to see the show and finally hear Matthew Morrison sing live. I was a little disappointed that no one was able to come with me, but it did enable me to buy a 3rd row ticket, so I couldn’t be too mad!

Finding Neverland marqueeOn the day of the show, I got my hair did and got all dressed up for a great night out at the theatre. It was still very cold in New York, but the wind had died down. I wanted to eat at Bareburger, mistakenly thinking it was like Roam, but it was a little fancier than I was expecting and had too long a wait. I grabbed a mediocre slice of pizza before getting my place in line for entry into the show. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait too long in the cold. I was surprised to see a number of children in line, since it was an evening performance. (There is a moment in the second act when they specifically refer to children in the audience, but it still felt odd to me.)

View From My SeatI haven’t been to a show on Broadway since 1999, so it was definitely a thrill to walk back into a theatre and have a Playbill in my hand. I let the usher walk me down to my seat, which was SO close. When I was debating which seat to get a month before, I wasn’t sure if front row would be like front row at a movie theatre (i.e. not great) or if there would be space between us and the stage. I ended up in the middle of the third row of the third preview, which was perfect. I joked on Twitter that I was close enough to see Matthew Morrison sweat (spoiler alert – I WAS RIGHT!).

I’d never seen the 2004 movie this musical is based on (I can’t stand Johnny Depp), so I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t even seen Peter Pan since I was a kid, so even though I know the basic details, I’m not sure I could give you the whole plot, point for point. But as a Matthew Morrison fangirl, I just wanted see him perform live, however it may turn out.

There’s a very cool lighting effect to symbolize Tinkerbell that immediately captures your attention and draws you right into the show. However, almost immediately after that, Matthew speaks in a Scottish accent. It’s not bad per say, but it’s jarring. There was definite tittering and giggling in the audience. I mean, I know that J.M. Barrie was Scottish, but I just wasn’t expecting that.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting was that they use a real dog to play Porthos. I knew there was a dog in Peter Pan, but I never thought there’d be one in this show. VERY well-behaved and so sweet. (I think the dog may have gotten more applause than the ensemble!)

tumblr_nmthc1WAWr1s3y9slo1_500My third row tickets started to pay off almost immediately when this happened. I was so close I could see Matthew’s knee shaking! (Obviously by the time Yahoo! visited the show, he’d steadied himself.) It was the first of many surreal moments of the night.

In case we didn’t realize that this was only the third performance with this cast in this place, there was a bit of a bobble during the big romantic duet between Laura Michelle Kelly and Matthew Morrison. They sorta rub their faces against each other as they dance and somehow got tangled together. I’m not sure if his mic caught her wig or if her mic caught on his beard, but they definitely had to improvise choreography while untangling themselves. But they never missed a note!

As we came towards intermission, I really started to notice how much this story mirrors Matthew Morrison’s character, Will Schuester, on Glee. J.M. Barrie is a successful playwright in London, backed by an American producer (played Kelsey Grammer), married to a woman (played by Teal Wicks) who is enjoying the lifestyle her husband provides, but he is just not fulfilled by his career. He has a chance encounter in the park with Sylvia (Laura Michelle Kelly) and her four boys, sparking his imagination, getting his creative juices flowing and changing his life forever. His wife ends up leaving him after cheating on him and he falls in love with Sylvia. Sound familiar?

Anyway, the first act closes with J.M. Barrie adrift in his life and discovering his inner “Captain Hook” (also played by Kelsey Grammer). The last number before intermission is called “Stronger.” A couple weeks before my trip, the Finding Neverland instagram had posted a preview of this song and I got chills watching it on my phone. But seeing Matthew, standing on that plank just a few feet from me, belt out that last note….WOW! I got goosebumps that didn’t go away until the house lights came up! I even cried a bit because his voice is just SO. GOOD.

One of the downsides to being in the middle of the row is that it’s hard to move without disturbing twenty people. I decided to stay put for intermission instead of grabbing a glass of champagne as I had originally planned. The folks around me also stayed put and we all discussed the snowstorm heading for the City due to arrive on that Friday (also the day I was scheduled to leave NYC).

The second act is more of a downer, as Laura Michelle Kelly’s character (SPOILER ALERT!) gets sick and eventually dies. However, my favorite group number, “Play” occurs in the second act as well as my favorite joke of the night. At this point, J.M. Barrie has written Peter Pan for the theatre of actors Charles Frohman employs and they can’t make heads nor tails of it. They think it’s a play for children and want nothing of it. Everyone decides to go out to a pub instead of rehearse. At the pub, a group of actors clink their mugs and one turns to Kelsey Grammer, asking “Do they say ‘Cheers’ in your country?” Biggest laugh of the show! (Don’t know how that joke works once Kelsey leaves the show, but it’s delightful all the same.) Next comes “Play,” an upbeat number reminding the ensemble to unleash their imaginations and remember childish wonder. Matthew doesn’t have a lot to do during this number as his character is mostly playing kissy face with Sylvia, but it’s a lot of fun.

The child actors playing the children are very good, though I have a Frohman-like distaste for kids, so I don’t usually find them precocious or precious. Aidan Gemme plays Peter, the most serious of the boys, who is having the most trouble with his father’s death and then coming to terms with his mother’s illness. He and Matthew have a sublime duet, “When Your Feet Don’t Touch The Ground,” that brought tears to my eyes again. They have such a beautiful blend that I didn’t want the song to end.

When Sylvia finally dies, it is in the most amazing, beautiful way and I’m still not entire sure how they did it. J.M. brings the actors back to the house to perform when Sylvia can’t leave the house for Opening Night of the play. “Peter Pan” is heading back to “Neverland,” and throws a handful of glitter in the air, which explodes and engulfs the stage in glitter and Sylvia disappears through the window to Neverland. It’s beautiful and horribly sad. I don’t know where the glitter goes, but it’s gone when the curtain reopens seconds later with the new set. The show ends on a down note, but it’s still so lovely. I wasn’t ready for the curtain calls AT ALL! We gave them a well-deserved standing ovation and I screamed myself a little hoarse.

Then, everyone had to pile on all of their layers to prepare to go back outside. I had been nervous about what the crowd at the stage door might be like, but luckily, the exit closest to my seat was also the exit closest to the stage door. There was a crowd right by the exit, but I slipped around to the other side and found a place right up against the barrier, squeezing in with a group of four girls. I was ready to wait at least an hour, but cast members started to come out almost right away. I got my Playbill signed by Dana Costello before we were warned that the cast was going to come out and it was going to be “awesome,” but we needed to cool and stay on our side of the barrier.

Less than 20 minutes after the curtain came down, Matthew came out and started signing just as fast as he could. He would take photos, just as patient as could be, and was just so NICE! He did one side of the line and came down to our side and worked his way back toward the middle. My hands were shaking, but I was able to talk to Matthew while he signed my Playbill, telling him how amazing I thought he was in the show and how much I enjoyed it. He thanked me very nicely, giving me a smile before moving on to the next person. It was incredibly surreal to hear Matthew Morrison’s voice, live and in person, just inches from me.

Blurry MattyMoI can’t take a selfie for shit and I now wish I had spoken up while we were waiting to see if one of the group of four girls I had been standing near would have been able to take a photo of us. If I’d known that we wouldn’t be waiting so long, I wouldn’t have piled on all my gear, giving me better hand control to take photos with, but I have this blurry photo to remember the moment, so that will have to do.

I quickly moved out of line, having gotten what I came for, giving someone else a shot at the front row. I was walking on air as I walked down 46th Street toward Time Square, looking for a cab to take me home. I’ll remember this all my life and it was everything I thought it could be and more!