×

Harvard Professor Writes Op-Ed Piece in Support of Broadway’s ‘Finding Neverland’

A Harvard University professor has written an op-ed letter in support of Broadway musical “Finding Neverland.” The show lays out an academic context not only for the Peter Pan backstory related in the musical, but also for the enduring appeal of the Peter Pan story itself.

The following is the text of the op-ed by Maria Tatar, Harvard University professor of Germanic languages and literatures and folklore and mythology:

How do we explain Peter Pan’s enduring hold on our imagination? Why do we get hooked (and I use the term with all due deliberation) when we are children and continue to remain under the spell as adults? J.M. Barrie, more than any other author of children’s books, attempted to level distinctions between adult and child, as well as to dismantle the opposition between creator and consumer. He aimed to produce a story that would be sophisticated and playful, adult-friendly as well as child-friendly. At long last, here was a cultural story that would bridge the still vast literary divide between adults and children. Peter Pan could be a shared experience, drawing two audiences together that had long been segregated into separate domains.

Peter Pan continues to bring young and old together, as they flock to New York City’s Lunt Fontanne Theater.  There, the boy who would not grow up returns to us in the new musical “Finding Neverland.” As audience members, we explore everything from the origins of the boy who would not grow up (Barrie’s brother David died in a tragic ice-skating accident and was doomed to remain forever young) to the complications of creating a work not just for children but also with children (Barrie famously disavowed the role of author, first calling himself “Anon.” then attributing the writing of the play at various times to children and to a nursemaid).

Popular on Variety

“Finding Neverland,” like Peter Pan before it, unsettles us even as it provides the comforts of immersive entertainments.  The production reminds us exactly why Neverland remains relevant today and why we still need Peter Pan to help us navigate the real world. Our anxiety level is rarely higher than when Peter asks us to express our faith in fairies by clapping.  Should we clap?  Can we be assured that others will join in?  Make-believe suddenly blends into the making of beliefs.

Barrie understood that we never leave childhood entirely behind us.  “It isn’t a play just for children.  It’s a play for everyone. Everyone who has a child inside of them, screaming to get out!” an exasperated Barrie shouts in “Finding Neverland.”  Lurking beneath the attractions of “Finding Neverland” as musical are alluring questions that challenge us to think more and think harder about what is at stake in our understanding of children and their relationship to grown-ups, those former children who are now “grown up and done for.”

Based on the 2004 film, “Finding Neverland” as a musical historicizes the invention of Peter Pan, showing how the work about him emerged from play-carefree collaborations between writer and boys, along with the searing drama of adult soul-searching.  “Finding Neverland,” like Barrie’s Peter Pan, also offers up the consolations of imagination.  If there is anything to be learned from Neverland, it has to do with the healing power of imagination and fantasy.  “Finding Neverland” works its magic through the sorcery of words and the enchantments of song and spectacle.  Peter Pan is nearly always played by a woman, and it is no surprise that a woman directs this production (notably the only female director of a musical this season on Broadway).  Diane Paulus reinvents the story of Peter Pan, embracing and intensifying its impulse to create what J.M. Barrie called “ecstasies innumerable.”

J.M. Barrie would be delighted that this new musical is capturing what he always hoped for with his creation of Peter Pan – igniting the imaginations of children and adults alike on their collective journey to Neverland.

More Legit

  • Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant,

    Gregg Smith, Dancer and Choreographer Assistant, Dies at 73

    Gregg Smith, a dancer, casting director and assistant choreographer who had a long association with director Kenny Ortega, has died. He was 73. Smith died on Jan. 1. The industry veteran worked as a performer in the national touring company of the musical “Hair” and in a Los Angeles production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” He [...]

  • Frozen review musical

    Warmth and Humor Pervade Pantages Production of 'Frozen' the Musical

    In 2013, Disney’s “Frozen” hit screens like a 100 mile-per-hour snowball, sparking a pop cultural phenomenon in which little girls and boys pranced about dressed in Anna and Elsa and Olaf costumes while belting aloud “Let It Go,” Elsa’s feminist anthemic response to ice powers rendering her a societal outcast. The animated movie won two [...]

  • My Name Is Lucy Barton review

    'My Name is Lucy Barton': Theater Review

    Laura Linney is in love. Just watch the radiant expression on her face as she wraps her arms around the character of Lucy Barton, a role she played in two separate engagements at the Bridge Theater in London, and is now reprising on Broadway in “My Name is Lucy Barton.” The feeling is obviously mutual, [...]

  • 'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to

    'Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal' to Air Weekly, Syndicate Nationally (EXCLUSIVE)

    “Broadway Profiles with Tamsen Fadal” will become nationally syndicated, marking a first for a program about the Great White Way. Beginning in fall 2020, the monthly show will increase frequency to air weekly. The show is hosted and executive-produced by 12-time Emmy Award winner Tamsen Fadal, a news anchor at WPIX, the channel that initially [...]

  • Laura Linney My Name Is Lucy

    Listen: What Laura Linney Learns From Bad Shows

    For Laura Linney, every stage experience is a learning experience. “Even the bad ones!” she cheerfully declared on the new episode of Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “Even the ones that are really bad, and I’ve been really bad in some things,” continued the Emmy winner, currently back on Broadway [...]

  • 'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With

    'Betrayal' Star Zawe Ashton Signs With CAA (EXCLUSIVE)

    Zawe Ashton has signed with CAA, Variety has learned. Most recently seen on Broadway in the hit revival of Harold Pinter’s “Betryal,” Ashton is the definition of a multi-hyphenate. In addition to being an in-demand actress, Ashton is a director, playwright and author. While earning critical raves for “Betrayal,” Ashton made her debut as a [...]

  • Michael Feinstein Kristin Chenoweth Sutton Foster

    Jerry Herman Memorial Set for Feb. 3 at Lunt-Fontanne Theatre

    A memorial service for Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman will be held at 3 p.m. on Feb. 3 at Broadway’s Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Michael Feinstein is producing the tribute, which will feature performances from a number of notable legit stars, including Kristin Chenoweth, Harvey Fierstein, Sutton Foster, Kelli O’Hara, Bernadette Peters and Betty Buckley. Angela [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content