The magic of “Peter Pan” grabs hold of different generations in different ways. For Broadway performer Christine Dwyer, when she was growing up it was the 1991 movie “Hook” with Robin Williams that cemented the connection.
“I definitely saw the cartoon version of ‘Peter Pan,’ but the one that really stuck out for me was ‘Hook,’ ” says Dwyer, who stars in the new national tour of the musical “Finding Neverland” at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre. “The story of ‘Peter Pan’ continues to have so much appeal. I think a lot of it, especially for adults, is the idea there’s always this child inside of you.”
For a new generation of children, the stage version of “Finding Neverland” – based on the 2004 film starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet – might be the experience that connects them to the classic world created by playwright J.M. Barrie.
Broadway veteran Diane Paulus directed the show, which opened on Broadway in March 2015 as one of the most anticipated titles of the year (though it didn’t receive any Tony Award nominations) and closed 17 months later. The national tour, which plays in San Francisco Jan. 18-Feb. 12, kicked off in October.
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Dwyer plays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the mother of the boys who were the inspiration for “Peter Pan.” She and her sons are close family friends with Barrie, who took on a surrogate father role and enthusiastic playmate to the boys when Sylvia’s husband died.
Barrie’s last play bombed, and he hopes to find a winning idea for a new one. What if he wrote a play about boys with an active fantasy life?
In our show there are sad parts, but it’s dealt with in a really beautiful, moving way.
‘Finding Neverland’ star Christine Dwyer
The “Peter Pan” story has a certain melancholy to it, but it’s one to which adults are more attuned than children. You could say the same thing about “Finding Neverland.” Because it’s based on a true story, there’s no disguising the fact that Sylvia deals with more than her share of tragedy.
“I cry every night in the show, which does take it out of you,” Dwyer says. “In our show there are sad parts, but it’s dealt with in a really beautiful, moving way.” (Even younger children will enjoy the show, she says, though they might not process it the same way as an adult.)
She’s had a lot of experience tackling emotional roles on Broadway. For three years she played Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway and on tour, a character that she describes as a different kind of emotional stress. (“Once you hit that stage as Elphaba, you never leave,” she says.)
Still, there are lots of actresses who have played Elphaba during “Wicked’s” long run. With the character of Silvia, there are only two: Laura Michelle Kelly, who originated the role on Broadway and stayed through the long run; and Dwyer.
Paulus, who also directed the national tour, made some small but meaningful changes to the script and structure of the show to improve the Broadway version. We meet Silvia earlier in the show than before, and the through-linen of the narrative is improved.
“Now I feel it’s become my own. having been only the second person to play this part,” Dwyer says.
And in doing so, she’s become part of the larger “Peter Pan” story. She might even “Hook” a younger generation into the world of the boy who never grew up.
- Jan. 18-Feb. 12
- Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St., San Francisco
- www.shnsf.com, 888-746-1799