~ by lisa lipsey ~
It is October 1911 and Scottish born playwright J.M. Barrie has just completed his newest play, Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. A story he based on the imaginative antics of four neighboring children near his London home. He met them while out walking his Saint Bernard and entertained them with stories of fairy children who could fly.
Getting his new play produced at a theatre was another matter, Barrie’s last play, Little Mary, had been a flop. American Theatre Producer Charles Frohman, skeptically agreed to mount a production at one of his London locations, the Duke of York’s Theatre. As insurance, Barrie placed children from a nearby orphanage in the audience for the opening night of the show, proving a wise choice. Adults reacted to the infectious delight of the children and the play became a hit.
Here we are in 2017, more than 100 years later, welcoming the musical Finding Neverland to Southern California. With it comes a whimsical tale that explores the power of imagination, based off the hit film starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet, brought to life by Tony-winning Director Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair) with an original score by composer Gary Barlow and Grammy-winner Eliot Kennedy.
Book is by playwright James Graham and choreography staged by three-time Emmy-winner Mia Michaels (So You Think You Can Dance, Cirque du Soleil’s Delirium).
Isn’t it true, we are still thrilled by Peter, Wendy, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, the pirates and Captain Hook?
In this touring production, the role of Captain Hook/The Producer is played by Broadway Veteran Tom Hewitt. He took a moment to chat with us between productions.
Hewitt had to turn off the news when The Rage Monthly called him. “Let me wipe tears from my eyes and turn off the news. It’s time to talk to the ‘dishonest’, ‘nasty’ news reporter,” teased Hewitt. He sounds wide-awake and melodic at 10:30 a.m., something not common to most actors faced with a morning interview. As if he is literally speaking from center stage, instead of his Las Vegas hotel room, “Oh, yes, I was doing a vocal warm-up before you called—yelling at the television and the latest political news.”
Hewitt’s ability to howl and growl and sing and dance is much acclaimed. He has played many a villain in his career from Dracula in Dracula to Dr. Frank-N- Furter (The Rocky Horror Show) and Scar (Disney’s The Lion King) to Captain Hook in the production of Peter Pan with Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby, as well as Pontius Pilate (Jesus Christ Superstar). “I have had the pleasure of being a part of really awesome productions, from New York to L.A. to the Old Globe and over at La Jolla Playhouse with the incredible Chris Ashley. I will say my time playing Dr. Frank-N-Furter at the Circle in the Square Theatre is a true favorite…I was nominated for a Tony. The audience participation and the cast, including Dick Cavett and Joan Jett, made it an outrageously wonderful experience.”
Now, in Finding Neverland, Hewitt says, “This Captain Hook is a bit of a different take from the Captain Hook in Peter Pan. He is kind of a manifestation of J. M. Barrie’s personality and the Producer Charles Frohman. His job is to encourage Barrie to pirate up, explore his darker side and write his own story. To follow the courage of his convictions.”
When asked about any rituals or routines he follows to get into character, Hewitt reflects, “In terms of preparing for the role, I don’t. I’ve got 150 performances under my belt. When you are on long runs like this, what becomes challenging is to find excitement. If I am not in the mood pre-show, all I have to do is picture one family; getting the babysitter, parking, eating out a restaurant and paying for tickets. This is an event for them, so, I gear my day to the best job that I can.”
Before hitting The Great White Way, Hewitt started performing in his small hometown in Western Montana. There, he was in the closet, but outrageous on the stage, “I am thankful to my parents for allowing me to pursue theatre as a kid. There is nothing more magical.” Thanks to a little bit of pixie dust, Finding Neverland has moments of magic for all ages, “I love the way that flying is handled in the show, it is unapologetically theatrical. I am sentimental and it always brings a tear to my eye,” admits Hewitt.
Finding Neverland runs Tuesday, March 21 through Sunday, April 2 at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa. For tickets and more, call 714.556.2787 or go to scfta.org.
Broadway San Diego’s Finding Neverland runs Tuesday, April 4 through Sunday, April 9 at downtown’s Civic Theatre. For tickets and more information, call 619.570.1100, or go to broadwaysd.com.