Broadway musical 'Finding Neverland' tackles grief, vulnerability among its spectacle

Actress Josephine Cooper performs the song "All That Matters" as her character, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, during the Broadway Musical "Finding Neverland." The company will continue its national tour until its last performance April 12, 2020. Denise Trupe, Photo Provided
Actress Josephine Cooper performs the song "All That Matters" as her character, Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, during the Broadway Musical "Finding Neverland." The company will continue its national tour until its last performance April 12, 2020. Denise Trupe, Photo Provided

Over the past seven months, actress Josephine Cooper said, acting as Sylvia Davies in the Broadway musical “Finding Neverland” has allowed her to grow not only as an actress but also a person. 

“Being vulnerable in our everyday lives is challenging,” Cooper said. “For me, to be challenged to do that every single day as Sylvia helps me in my everyday life be more in touch with my feelings and to be more in touch with the way I communicate, speak and hopefully live in a thoughtful way. I think Sylvia's bravery and resilience just really reminds me to find it in myself and really notice it and find it in other people.” 

“Finding Neverland” is a musical retelling of the Academy Award-winning film of the same name, following playwright J.M. Barrie’s creative process as he develops his fictional world. 

Cooper’s character, Sylvia Davies — a widowed, single mother of four sons — is speculated to be the inspiration behind Wendy Darling in J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan.”

“Sylvia is this example of someone who wants to bring life and joy into the lives of her sons as they’re dealing with grief,” Cooper said. “That’s the sort of mentality she finds in J.M. Barrie as they start to get to know each other. He starts to spend time with her and her family and gets inspired to write ‘Peter Pan.’”

“Finding Neverland” is a part of Ball State’s artist series performances. Shows that are selected for the series are chosen for their Broadway significance and the interest for the community, said Kristi Chambers, assistant director of marketing and communication. 

“We try and put together a Broadway based artist series that has a mix of student appeal and an older audience, retiree appeal,” Chambers said. “‘Finding Neverland’ was a good mix.”

Past performances of other musicals at Emens have been very theatrical and didn’t use a lot of props, which made it hard for audiences “to wrap [their] minds around if [they] weren’t already immersed or understood theater,” Chambers said. 

“‘Finding Neverland’ [is] different in that most audiences can easily understand and follow along with the script,” Chambers said. “They won't have to have that theater background to enjoy it.”

Cooper said “Finding Neverland” has a good dose of spectacle and an amazing ensemble of dancers and singers along with the show’s beautiful projects, flying actors and big show-stopping ensemble members. 

“The audience can expect a nice combination of big, exciting and magical, spectacle and then also really soft, gentle and vulnerable themes,” Cooper said. “That’s what I really love about the show. It does the big and magical really well but it does the small and subtle really well.

For freshman psychology major Kyah Harris her favorite parts of the musical included the Golden Doodle, Porthos, and the show’s ending scene. 

“I really like the ending of the play as well because it was really dramatic and brought a lot of emotions out,” Harris said. 

Cooper’s favorite part of touring across the country with the musical, she said, is meeting all of the actors that cycle throughout the production and play her sons. So far, there have been 17 child actors playing these roles.

In addition to the child actors, Cooper said, she enjoys working with her co-lead Mark Bacon, who plays J.M. Barrie, and “carries the show” because he is only off stage for 10 minutes.

“He has this incredible stamina and just an incredibly, genuine way about him and his character that I always can’t wait to get on stage, sitting there staring into his eyes, listening to him say something deep as J.M. Barrie,” Cooper said.

A major takeaway she believes the audience will leave with, Cooper said, is feeling moved by one of the musicals larger themes: grief. 

“I think that 'Finding Neverland’ tackles grief in a really sensitive and beautiful way that a lot of people relate to because, of course, we all experience grief in our lives,” Cooper said. “I think the show provides a catharsis for a lot of people who are dealing or who have dealt with grief.”

After watching the musical, freshman telecommunications major Atyra Seymour said she agreed with Cooper that the show did well with handling grief.

“It still looks at [grief] as a saddening thing but it embraces it as a part of life,” Seymour said.

Along with its staging, Cooper said, she believes the musical does a great job of exploring the vulnerability of young boys.

“I think audiences, especially kids or young boys — seeing boys be allowed to have their feelings and be sad, be hurt, and also be excited and joyful,” Cooper said, “I think that's really powerful as well.” 

Contact Madeleine Mills-Craig at mmillscraig@bsu.edu or on Twitter @MMillscraig.   

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