When you order spaghetti in a restaurant and someone asks “How’s your spaghetti taste?” typically the response will be something resembling, “Well, it tastes like spaghetti.” I mean, how do you describe it? Spaghetti is … spaghetti-y. Rarely does one rave about spaghetti … after all it’s just spaghetti. It’s pretty basic. And, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Occasionally, you might be at a really fancy place and think THIS spaghetti is gonna to be GREEEEAAAT. And, it’s not bad, but it’s also… not great. It’s comforting and familiar, but it’s maybe not as great as it was when you were a kid and it’s certainly not as great as you thought it would be this time; but it’s okay, because honestly, deep down, you know spaghetti isn’t likely to ever really impress you. The first few bites are tasty sure, but as you continue to consume it, you slowly realize maybe it tasted good because you were just hungry. There’s no denying that along with its carbatious warmth, there’s a layer of deceptively soothing nostalgia initially consumed along with those first few mouthfuls. But, ultimately you settle into the dish and generally resign yourself to commit to an experience that’s nothing fantastic and is by no means mediocre, but what ultimately boils down to an acceptable form of nourishment. You can always fill up on bread and wine to compensate for what it eventually lacks and focus on your good dining company instead. Spaghetti…you enjoy it… enough.
Last night’s Finding Neverland at Broadway San Jose was like Spaghetti. How was it? Well, it was Musical-y. I had high hopes (though not too high) that there would be a good story, good music and good production value. Musicals for me can admittedly be a challenge. While, I am totally the weird girl who starts singing random conversations or internal monologues at the drop of a dime, it’s not so easy when it comes to characters on stage breaking into song. They have to have a REASON in my book. The musicals that I’ve enjoyed the most have music that’s undeniably catchy and/or gorgeous and/or lyrics that are truly poetic, intellectually engaging, and essential for moving the plot along. I found the music in this show to be particularly weak and uninteresting, unnecessary with abrupt starts and repetition that seemed lazy to be frank. So much of it seemed to be filler and entire songs based on one single lyric with any significance or weight; watered down with too much sauce and not enough substance. There is literally a song full of nursery rhymes. And, I know I sound like a stuffy jerk when I say, what is the point of that? There were several songs that felt like they would have been far better served as just dialogue and not set to music. There was no emotional anchor to the majority of the show (though I felt actors in most cases were trying) and it felt an awful lot like this show was simply trying to ride on the coat tails of the original Peter Pan and even Peter and the Starcatcher (which is literarily layered, complex, and sentimental with its honest homage to its source material as well as its authentically imaginative original components.)
Aside from the flaws of the show itself, I was challenged with a number of the other production elements. The chemistry between characters felt dangerously flat to me throughout. The pacing was erratic too, with scenes dragging in places and rushed in others with little warning or transition. The sound or diction (or possibly both) made it hard to understand a good portion of the show and it was loud. The choreography was disappointing over all, the story was not nearly as fanciful, full of whimsy or as compelling as I was expecting given the themes of inspiration and imagination that are so central to the piece, and there were sight line issues on the far sides which further tested my appreciation.
But, it wasn’t all lackluster and unfulfilling. There were some really lovely moments of magic woven in with stage craft (love me some glitter, y’all) and special effects. There were also some clever ways that the Peter Pan story (if you’re intimately familiar with it) were silhouetted and echoed in the visuals and book of the show. There is certainly undeniable vocal talent on the stage (even if I didn’t like what they were singling). The costumes were conceptually consistent and pretty to look at. There was some humor, some that even roused audible chuckles from me. I ALWAYS enjoy a real, live dog on stage, so there was that obvious highlight. It didn’t leave a bad taste in my mouth, it just didn’t leave much of a memorable one either.
Butternut Squash Ravioli in a Brown Butter Sage Sauce it was certainly not, but never-the-less an acceptable 3 out 5 jewels in the review tiara for a show that satisfies enough to not be disappointing, but simultaneously, like spaghetti, seems to go down a lot better with good company. Finding Neverland plays through Sunday April 22nd at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.