West End tuners have been in short supply since the triumphant opening of “Matilda the Musical” in November 2011, but the new season offers some serious box office contenders. On deck for the autumn are “Loserville” at the Garrick (previewing Oct. 1), “The Bodyguard” at the Adelphi (Nov. 6) and Judy “Mamma Mia” Craymer’s Spice Girls-inspired “Viva Forever” at the Piccadilly (Nov. 27) . However, a different West End prospect has been piquing the interest of legiters: “Finding Neverland,” a musical from Harvey Weinstein.
Currently in technical rehearsals, the show about the writing of “Peter Pan” will begin a brief, three-week tryout Sept. 22 at the Curve, the recently built large-scale theater in Leicester, a 70-minute train ride away from London, although in keeping with tradition, the show is open for review by regional press only.
While clearly based on David Magee’s Oscar-nommed screenplay of the 2004 Miramax movie, Allan Knee’s book for the “Finding Neverland” tuner also draws on his own original play, “The Man Who Was Peter Pan.”
All the characters will be played by Brits, principally the central roles of Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie, played onscreen by Johnny Depp and onstage by Julian Ovenden (“Butley” on Broadway opposite Nathan Lane), and Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, which Kate Winslet limned onscreen and played by Rosalie Craig onstage. But the creatives working with American helmer/choreographer Rob Ashford (“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”) are almost exclusively American, from songwriting duo Scott Frankel and Michael Korie (“Grey Gardens”) to set designer Scott Pask.
The exception is Brit costume designer Paul Wills, who worked alongside Ashford on the Donmar Warehouse’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Anna Christie,” starring Ruth Wilson and Jude Law, which nabbed the 2012 Olivier for top revival.
Weinstein has been widely quoted as saying the lavish “Finding Neverland” production will have cost around £7 million ($11.2 million) before it reaches London so, unsurprisingly, the industry is awash with rumors as to which theater will be opening its doors to the impresario next spring. Unlike Broadway houses, which are routinely locked down for shows many months in advance, London theaters tend to be more flexible, and book properties later. (The booking of the Prince of Wales Theater early in 2012 for the Feb. 25, 2013 West End transfer of “The Book of Mormon” was a rare exception.)
That flexibility adds grist to the rumor mill, which explains the level of industry gossip about the potential availability of the Aldwych Theater, currently home to “Top Hat,” which is doing respectable if not earth-shattering business. The idea of it quitting next year now looks less than likely in the wake of the recent announcement that its booking period has been extended through Sept. 28, 2013. Other possibilities include the Savoy but that only seats around 1,130 and may not have a large enough stage. The slightly larger Shaftesbury (which seats around 200 more) is currently home to “Rock of Ages,” which is coming up on its first anniversary Sept. 28, much to the surprise of anyone who read the barrage of almost uniformly damning opening notices. “Finding Neverland” will not be the only other tuner looking to land a London berth next year: Chichester Festival Theater is believed to be opening a new production of “The Pajama Game” helmed by Richard Eyre next season. That show has not been seen in London since an over-designed, underpowered revival staggered through a less-than-three-month run before shuttering in December 1999 at the Victoria Palace. If the new production is a hit, it’s likely to follow current Chichester tuner successes “Sweeney Todd” and “Singin’ in the Rain” into town.
By coincidence, if “Finding Neverland” does nail down a spring opening, it will face unlikely competition courtesy of stage and screen scribe John Logan. “Peter and Alice,” his first stage play since the Tony-winning “Red,” begins previews March 9 at the Noel Coward Theater. It’s about a meeting between Alice Liddell, the inspiration of “Alice in Wonderland” meeting the grown-up Peter Llewelyn Davies, who, as a child, was the inspiration for, yes, Peter Pan. Helmed by Michael Grandage, it stars Ben Whishaw and Judi Dench. Two shows about Barrie’s boy in the same place at the same time? What were the odds of that?