Thursday, Playbill.com released footage of the “Finding Neverland” on Broadway press presentation, following the release of a video showcasing Matthew Morrison singing “Neverland” at an Oscars after party Sunday. And I could not be more disappointed.
I saw “Finding Neverland” when it was running at the American Repertory Theatre here in Boston this past summer. Twice.
Directed by superwoman Diane Paulus, the show was one of the most magical and enlightening theatre experiences I have ever had. Laura Michelle Kelly was breathtakingly beautiful as Sylvia Llewelyn-Davies, and the rest of the cast truly succeeded in bringing the stories of J.M. Barrie, the Llewelyn-Davies family and Peter Pan to life. But while the work of Paulus and the ensemble was remarkable, the true catalyst to my emotional takeaway was the work of Jeremy Jordan in the role of J.M. Barrie.
Jordan left something on the stage those two nights that I had the pleasure of seeing the production — as I’m positive he did in every other performance— that cannot be put into words. His emotional connection to the character and his ability to execute the work is something that I had never seen before. He had come such a ways from the stuck, stubborn Jack Kelly and progressed into a strong, intellectual and beautiful actor.
Not only did Jordan act the role brilliantly, he tackled the score with genius. His version of “Neverland” was absolutely gorgeous, filled with incredible sadness and hope all intertwined. Not to mention that money note at the end of “Stronger;” the boy can sing. He truly has mastered the talent of acting the song (see “The Last Five Years” for other visual proof of this).
And while I may be a tad biased because Jordan is one of my favorite Broadway performers of this generation, I don’t think many would argue with the fact that he mastered this role. Except, perhaps, for producer Harvey Weinstein.
The decision to replace Jordan when the team announced that Finding Neverland would be transferring to Broadway didn’t come as much of a surprise. After all, Morrison had originated the role in the workshop production. Even still, Jordan’s inability to take the role further made my heart sank. I tried, though- however slightly- to give Morrison some benefit of the doubt.
After seeing Playbill.com’s rehearsal coverage and Morrison’s Oscar party performance, though, I can definitively say that Morrison has completely poorly executed pieces of a role that was once so artfully executed. From what I can tell, many of the keys to musical numbers featuring Morrison (such as “Believe”) have been taken down to support his minimal range. He seemingly makes no effort to connect to the piece, and instead merely goes through the motions of his blocking in hopes of garnering a larger amount of ticket buyers.
Obviously, I would have to argue that the choice to replace Jordan was due to a lack of a fan base. After all, Morrison appeared on something like five seasons of “Glee,” so clearly he was the more popular choice among musical theatre fans. (I couldn’t be gagging any more than I am as I type that). I am not denouncing Morrison’s work- I enjoy his vocals in “The Light in the Piazza,” and I think that his stint on “Glee” was somewhat entertaining. He is simply miscast in this role.
While I understand that recasting Jordan was a step to garner a larger audience, I cannot comprehend why it was actually necessary. The show had a sold out run in Boston, and I would like to believe that Jordan had a lot to do with that. Once again, the “popularity” and “namesake” factor in the industry has taken a significant toll on a previously wonderful work.
In a TedxBroadway talk that took place Monday, founder of Broadway for All and American Repertory Theatre Institute at Harvard University graduate Osh Ghanimah stated, “We have a golden opportunity here because our audiences are changing and we need to respond to this if we want to continue to do good business. We can’t expect this growing number of minority talent to come to dinner unless we make room for them at the table.”
I can’t stress enough how much this matters not only for Jordan and those like him, but also those who have yet to be discovered. Obviously, Broadway is a business, and this was a business decision. But from a public relations standpoint, I like to believe that Broadway audiences are just as willing to accept newcomers (or, in this case, veterans who are perhaps less-well known to a larger audience), as they are actors such as Morrison and Kelsey Grammer, who replaced supporting actor Michael McGrath in the production.
In short, Weinstein and his team’s decision to recast Morrison is detrimental to the production simply because it compromises the integrity of what it originally was. And while most who see the show on Broadway won’t have experienced the A.R.T. production, I still would like to imagine that Paulus and her team will make the decision to allow Jordan to continue in the role after Morrison’s run has ended.