Finding Neverland's John Davidson: 'We loved Greenville'
Donna Isbell Walker, [email protected] 2:30 p.m. ET July 18, 2017 | Updated 9:24 a.m. ET July 20, 2017
Last time John Davidson came to Greenville, he was starring as the Wizard in the Broadway production “Wicked.”
He’ll be back at the Peace Center next week, playing the dual roles of Charles Frohman and Captain Hook in “Finding Neverland,” the story of “Peter Pan” author J.M. Barrie, and he can’t wait.
“We loved Greenville. I gotta tell you, it’s one of the highlights of the tour,” Davidson said in a recent phone interview. “Your downtown area is so cute, and the restaurants are fabulous, and the people were so nice. And of course, the theater was just incredible. … My wife and I really enjoyed the restaurants and walking around, so we’re looking very much forward to coming back.”
Davidson, whose TV credits include the 1970s series “That’s Incredible,” is new to “Finding Neverland.” He’s been in the cast for less than a month. It can be a challenge to step into a new role in the middle of a tour, but so far Davidson says he’s having a blast.
“I’m still discovering things about Frohman and Captain Hook. Frohman was a Broadway producer, and he’s the producer that brought ‘Peter Pan’ to the stage. And he was very much against it in the beginning. He thought Barrie was crazy. … As you know, our show is all about creativity and finding, freeing your imagination. Frohman’s character and the Hook character, every night it’s a new discovery. I’m at that point where I’m just so excited about being in the role and in the show. It doesn’t seem like work yet at all,” he said with a chuckle.
The actor, who’s now 75, has enthusiasm to spare, and he’s effusive about his co-star, Christine Dwyer, who plays Sylvia Llewelyn Davies. Dwyer, whose Broadway credits include the role of Elphaba in “Wicked,” plays the widowed mom of four boys, the inspiration for Barrie’s story.
Sylvia, a bit of a “Renaissance woman,” is an interesting character to play, Dwyer said in a phone interview.
First of all, Sylvia didn’t look to remarry immediately, as many widows might have done in early-20th-century England.
“She decided that that wasn’t for her,” Dwyer said. “She did not remarry, and she focuses all of her time and all of her energy on making sure that, in spite of the family tragedy, her boys had a really wonderful childhood. … She walked around the park with her boys, she played dress-up with them, she pretended to be a pirate. She was a little bit more tomboyish. People took notice of it, and she didn’t care because she knew that for her and her family, it was the right thing to do. And I think that takes a lot of strength and perseverance, and a lot of love for her children.”
Meeting Sylvia was a turning point for J.M. Barrie, and her spirit was the inspiration for the characters in “Peter Pan,” Dwyer said.
Dwyer’s role was played by Kate Winslet in the film and Laura Michelle Kelly on Broadway, while Davidson’s characters were originated by Dustin Hoffman in the film and Kelsey Grammer on Broadway.
For Davidson, it wasn’t intimidating to step into the shoes of Hoffman or Grammer; he was excited to make the role his own.
“Hook says a great thing that I think is advice to all of us. He says to Barrie, ‘A man who’s not willing to fight for what he wants, deserves what he gets. You can go back to being what everyone expects you to be, or you can find the courage to write your own story.’ And that is such great advice to anyone creating anything. … I guess that relates to why I don’t have to be Kelsey Grammer or Dustin Hoffman. I’m writing my own story, my version of Hook, and that takes some courage at times. The easiest thing in the world would be to do it exactly like those who’ve gone before,” he said.
The cast wasn’t the only thing that changed when “Finding Neverland” hit the road after its Broadway run.
There were some changes to the dialogue, staging and music, Dwyer said.
“It’s telling the same story, but Diane Paulus, our director, always kind of had a couple of different ideas for the way we begin and end our story,” she said. “Specifically, the way my character is introduced, and the writers had a couple of new songs that they wanted to try. These changes are really the opening of the show and the ending of the show, that the music is completely different, the staging is different.”
The tour travels with six boys who alternate the roles of Sylvia’s four sons, and both Davidson and Dwyer said the family atmosphere makes things especially fun.
“Everyone’s very supportive,” Davidson said. “It’s very much a family cast. There are six children in the show who play four parts. So it’s six kids and a lot of fun. There are no divas in ‘Finding Neverland.’ They’re all just great people.”
Traveling with a half-dozen boys adds a spark, a little energy to life on the road, Dwyer said.
Dwyer has a theory about why the story of Peter Pan continues to resonate more than a century after the boy’s debut.
“It’s really a story about finding your imagination, finding your inner child,” she said. “And the never-growing-up part is, I think, what keeps people of all ages coming back. Because as years go on and we have more responsibilities as adults … sometimes you lose that passion for things and that idea that, at any moment your life could change, and you are in control of that. And I think the Peter Pan story is great for kids because they’re living it, and it’s great for adults because they remember what it’s like to be a kid and not have a care in the world. And it reminds you that you can still feel that way, no matter what age you are. You can still follow your dreams and follow your heart.”
YOU CAN GO
What: “Finding Neverland”
When: 7:30 p.m. July 25-27; 8 p.m. July 28; 2 and 8 p.m. July 29; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. July 30
Where: Peace Center
How much: $25-$85
For more: www.peacecenter.org