Friday, July 19, 2024

Matthew Morrison Leaves “Finding Neverland” But the Show Has Plenty of “Glee” to Spare


I wondered what was going on with “Finding Neverland” at the Lunt Fontanne. Last night I stopped in to see Broadway star Tony Yazbeck take over for “Glee” star Matthew Morrison in the lead role of J.M. Barrie. Plus, Kelsey Grammer has recently returned after several months away. So, what’s up?

Morrison did his time–a year– and earned his Broadway stripes. He had a huge following from “Glee.” Would his absence hurt the show? Yazbeck had a Tony nomination and several others for “On the Town” last year. He’s a real Broadway vet and not that old. He looks like he could be the star of “Chicago PD.” But he can sing and dance.

And boy can he sing and dance. Last night was his first “Neverland” in front of an audience. And guess who was there? Producer Harvey Weinstein, who didn’t tell anyone he was coming. Plus composer Gary Barlow was watching. Just as I guessed, Yazbeck stepped in as if he’d always been there. A smoother transition would be hard to recall. He’s just got “it,” that Broadway thing, like Andy Karl and Steve Kazee and a few other Broadway leading men who are more and more a rarity. What a pleasure. Numbers like “Circus of Your Mind” and “The Dinner Party” really had more zip than I remembered.

“Neverland” was not a hit with the critics, was snubbed by the Tony Awards, and shunted aside. But a year later, the show has warmed up nicely. I was surprised how much I liked it. Kelsey Grammer, Carolee Carmello, Laura Michael Kelly and Teal Wicks lead cast still working hard but making it look easy. It’s a family show– there were lots of kids in the audience, and a lot on stage. The latter group is precocious and winning without being cloying.

The songs have settled in, too, especially “When Your Feet Don’t Touch the Ground.” Barlow is not pretending to be Sondheim. He writes hits. The “Neverland” songs are on a par with “Matilda” or “Kinky Boots.” You find yourself whistling more of them than you’d guess.

Carolee Carmello leaves soon for “Tuck Everlasting” so I advise you to get over to the Lunt-Fontanne fast. She is really wonderful. I don’t know how long everyone else is staying. But Kelsey Grammer seems more invested than ever in the show– he really is perfectly officious as Barrie’s producer, Charles Frohman. Both Laura Michelle Kelly and Teal Wicks sing like birds.

But my money is on Tony Yazbeck. Give him a month to settle in if you want. Or see him right now. Morrison came in with a lot of fanfare, which is great, and he did a sensational job. Second timers, I think, will be very interested in Yazbeck’s take on the man who wrote “Peter Pan.” A new cult may develop in short order.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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