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5 Things to Know about the national tour of ‘Finding Neverland’

The national tour of “Finding Neverland” makes a swing by Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre for a two-performance run opening Tuesday, Jan. 14. This 2015 Broadway musical played for a year and a half before going on tour. With the help of Ashleigh Thompson, who plays the wife of J.M. Barrie in the tour, I put together 5 Things to Know about the show:

Pictured above: The cast of ‘Finding Neverland.’ Photo: Broadway in Fresno

1. “Finding Neverland” is about the creation of “Peter Pan,” but it isn’t a production of “Peter Pan.”

In 1903, J.M. Barrie was a famous Scottish novelist and playwright looking for his next great project. When he met a beautiful widow named Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four sons, he was inspired to write the play “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” which he later adapted into a novel.


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“When he befriends this widow and her four boys, they play and imagine together,” says Thompson, speaking by phone from the show’s tour stop in Tucson. “Because of them, he’s able to come up with this silly, beautiful story that we all love.”

“Peter Pan” fans do get a taste of the title in one of the production’s more sumptuous scenes — a play-within-the-play, if you will.

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Broadway in Fresno

Ashleigh Thompson in ‘Finding Neverland.’

2. There is no connection to Michael Jackson.

Sometimes theatergoers get confused, especially because of the recent documentary film “Leaving Neverland.”

“It’s really not about him,” Thompson says.

3. Barrie’s relationship with the Llewelyn Davies family was complicated.

Not everyone approved. One of them was Mary Barrie, his wife.

“When we meet them when the play opens, their relationship has really deteriorated,” Thompson says. “Mary is a woman who is trying to climb her way up in society. She believes in behaving appropriately, elevating her status. James doesn’t care anything about that. It deeply reflects their relationship.”

Mary appears in that first scene wearing a doozy of a costume: a perfectly coiffed blond wig, a massive hat with a white bird on top, a very tight lace dress (“that I cannot sit in”) a billlowy, lavender coat, and John Lennon-type sunglasses.

“She’s a very fussy woman,” Thompson says.


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4. We all come to “Peter Pan” in different ways.

For many people, the Disney version is supreme, of course. But as a kid, Thompson got hooked on the 1955 film. She watched it incessantly on VHS.

“The magic of the story for me was the Mary Martin version,” she says.

Also, the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland was always her favorite.

5. J.M. Barrie took a chance, and it paid off.

He could have continued his solid writing career doing the same type of work. If he had, he would likely have faded into obscurity. Instead, he gambled with a different type of story, and he’ll be remembered for centuries to come.

“He follows his heart,” Thompson says. “The greatest message is to believe in yourself, believe in your story, and believe in the message that you want to bring to other people.”


Show info

‘Finding Neverland,’ a Broadway in Fresno production. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 15. Tickets are $35-$70.


Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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