Matthew Morrison on Finding Peter Pan in Neverland

There is a moment late in Act I of Finding Neverland when Matthew Morrison, as the writer J.M. Barrie, realizes that his destiny rests in creating a play about a boy who flies and will never grow up. Barrie’s loyal producer, Charles Frohman, doubts such a child-centric story will work, asking: “Islands, mermaids, children who are fairies?” and “Why can they never grow up?...How did the clock get inside the crocodile?”

Matthew Morrison shines as J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland. Photo: Carol Hossegg

Frohman’s eye, fixated on the box office—“James, children don’t have any MONEY! They can’t buy tickets...”—wants Barrie to keep writing the type of plays that had made him famous. But a surprise visit from a fantasy Captain Hook inspires the producer: “I am your darker side, the one you keep in shadows,” the pirate confides.

And Barrie succumbs. “Digging deeper, found the fire,” he sings, as if shedding a skin to reveal his happier self. “Feel enlightened, won’t be frightened anymore.”

Morrison compared his character’s transformation to the act of unscrewing a well-shaken soda bottle. “It takes a while for me to let loose and I love it,” he said. “I personally feel the energy throughout the first act; it’s bubbling and ready to explode.”

Based on the 1994 film starring Johnny Depp, Broadway’s Finding Neverland is the Peter Pan creation story set to music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Directed by Tony winner Diane Paulus (Pippin), the production is a vibrant celebration of imagination and that glimmer of childhood running amok inside all of us—no matter how much our adult angst tries to beat it down.

Before Barrie is reintroduced to his inner child (and inner pirate), he is introduced to audiences as a noted London playwright whose latest effort is a disappointment. Meanwhile, his marriage to Mary (Teal Wicks) is fraying. It’s a chance meeting in the park with the four rambunctious Llewelyn Davies brothers—Peter, George, Jack, and Michael—and their recently widowed mother, Sylvia (Mary Poppins’ Laura Michelle Kelly), that sets him on a determined mission to bring Peter Pan to the stage.

Morrison and Kelly bring a strong romantic chemistry to their roles—her radiant voice is one of the show’s highlights— and Morrison displays a gentle, paternal side with the boys. “These kids are wonderful,” he said of the seven boys who rotate in the roles of brothers. “For some, it’s their third Broadway show and they’re just 10 or 11. It’s ridiculous how professional and giving they are.”

Interestingly, Morrison had never read Peter Pan until being cast as Barrie. “My introduction to Peter Pan was through Hook, with Robin Williams,” he said, adding that before that film came out in 1991, “The story was just kind of lost on me. It had never crossed my path.”

finding neverland on broadway

Morrison, a Tony nominee for both Hairspray (2003) and The Light in the Piazza (2005), best known to TV audiences as Will Schuester, the sympathetic, singing-and-dancing glee club director on Glee, was working on the series when he got a call from Harvey Weinstein, the producer of Finding Neverland.

“He’s really good at pitching shows and he pitched this so beautifully,” he said. “And I wanted to return to Broadway.” (Considering the number of fans lining up at the stage door for autographs and selfies, his decision to take the stage again is much appreciated.)

Now, fully immersed in the Peter Pan myth, he observes how audiences laugh and cry as they give themselves over to the back-story of Barrie’s beloved play.

“How forward thinking and out-of-the-box it was, in 1904, to have people use their imaginations and pretend there is water on the stage and pretend there were fairies,” he said, citing just how groundbreaking this stuff was back then. “Barrie was really ahead of his time,” he concludes.

Finding Neverland is currently playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St. For reservations, call 877-250-2929 or visit

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