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Friday, June 23, 2017

Finding Neverland Soars Into Charm City

Written by  Frankie Kujawa
Calvin Cooper Calvin Cooper

J.M. Barrie, of Peter Pan fame, once said, “We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” Audiences can experience the triumphs and trials of the famed writer as Finding Neverland flies into Hippodrome Theatre this month. Performing from Tuesday, June 27th to Sunday, July 2nd, Finding Neverland is based on the Academy Award-winning film of the same name. The story follows J.M. Barrie as he summons the courage to become the writer– and the man– he yearns to be.

“Audiences can expect something for everyone,” says ensemble dancer Calvin Cooper. “This show is perfect for the whole family or even a date night. It’s perfect for people who grew up with Peter Pan, as well as those who have no idea about Pan.”

The show chronicles Barrie’s journey as he finds the inspiration he’s been missing – meeting the beautiful widow Sylvia and her four young sons: Jack, George, Michael, and Peter. It also showcases Barrie’s struggles in his own doomed marriage, as well as career lows as a playwright. Cooper added, “You get to see all the sacrifices that J.M. Barrie went through to bring his story forward. A lot of people wonder ‘Why can’t anyone grow up?’ but the whole show is about the times in his real life. The time that he lost with the brother that died at an early age.” Barrie’s brother, David, died two days before his 14th birthday, leaving the then six-year-old Barrie to help his mother take solace in the fact that David would remain a boy forever in their hearts and minds.

“That’s why he created Neverland.” Cooper explained. “In the play he is also losing time with his marriage. He is losing time with the character of Sylvia, who is dying. He is losing time to produce this production. The whole time he is racing the clock. Everyone who knows the story of Peter Pan is going to learn so much more than they knew, and those who don’t know get the full story of how Peter became Pan.”

Cooper, who hails from Newport News, Virginia, plays a myriad of characters throughout the show. “They’re what I like to call ‘moving set pieces,’” Cooper laughed. Throughout the show, Cooper performs as a “happy” pirate, a patron in the background of Kensington Gardens, a dancing bear, a house servant, and eventually a “dark” pirate during one of Barrie’s hallucinations – all within the first act.

Cooper believes that part of the enduring allure to the story of Peter Pan is the idea of embracing your true self. “I think part of why so many people like the story is because of its youthful spirit and the comfortability of being who you are. If you think about it, J.M. Barrie was in high society London in the 1900s where everything was stuffy and uptight. When he meets Sylvia, he meets someone who didn’t care how she was looked at. She was a single mother with, in our story, four kids. She’s out in the park playing with her kids. She didn’t care that people were watching her. When Barrie sees that, he is drawn to it. It’s watching the allure of him coming into his own. At the end of Act I there is this moment he begins to bare himself. He has everything buttoned to the top and he starts to get raw and primitive and you watch him develop into his own. You always hear the crowd go crazy at the end of Act I because J.M. Barrie is now really J.M. Barrie.”

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