Finding the magic of childhood in ‘Finding Neverland’

The 2015 musical “Finding Neverland” is, in the finest of Broadway traditions, an adaptation. The play is based on the 2004 movie of the same name, starring Johnny Deep as playwright J. M. Barrie, who is inspired by his friendship with the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies and her four sons to write what would become the classic play “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Never Grew Up.” That film, in turn, was based on “The Man Who Was Peter Pan,” a play by Allan Knee, which was itself inspired by the real-life story of Barrie and the Davies family.

The Broadway run of the show only lasted for a little over a year, but it found its footing as an acclaimed national tour that began in October 2016. Now, Austin audiences will be able to explore the magic of childhood embodied by the various layers of Barrie and Peter Pan captured by the show.

Billy Harrigan Tighe, who stars as Barrie in the touring production, says he believes that the character’s childlike sense of wonder is what makes him so attractive.

“What I think is most interesting about Barrie is that he is sort of out of place in the time and situations that he’s in,” Tighe says. “Most of the time he’s finding ways to act like a kid, and frankly most actors feel that way in the normal world all the time. I’m a 32-year-old man who’s dressing up and running around on stage every night. That bleeds into your personal life in some way or another.”

This is not Tighe’s first experience with playing a Broadway leading man, having previously taken on roles such as Elder Price in “The Book of Mormon” and Fiyero in “Wicked,” both of whom he describes as “lovable jerks.” According to Tighe, “These guys are so driven by their own personalities that they lead themselves astray and someone else sets them right. You have to know that going into the character because otherwise you can run the risk of playing one thing more than the other. You make them not likable enough, or you make them too likable and then there’s nothing to redeem.”

Barrie, on the other hand, is a different sort of character, and it is his very difference that defines his narrative arc. “Finding Neverland” is “about the fact that he differs from everyone else around him,” Tighe says. “It’s taking place through his mind’s eye, and it follows him, but it follows a guy who’s out of place. At first you see him struggling to be put into place and find a way to make himself feel like he’s like everyone else, and then eventually through the course of the show we discover that the best way for him to be successful is for him to be himself.”

For Barrie, being himself meant connecting with the child within in order to channel the emotional insight needed to pen “Peter Pan,” a journey that resonates with adults as “Peter Pan,” itself, does with children. “The story follows this guy as he’s going through his journey,” Tighe says. “I don’t want people to think that if they don’t have kids that they shouldn’t be going. It really is intended to be for everyone.”

For the children in the show, though, the experience truly is an adventure. Rather than seeing working with those child actors as a challenge, Tighe views it as an opportunity: “The show is all about rediscovering your inner child and your zest for life and creativity, and there’s nothing more present about that in our company than the children,” he says. “A big part of my job every day is making sure that I am engaging with them not only as Barrie but as Billy, and trying to make sure that I’m having fun with them onstage.”

Tighe delights in playing a role that’s all about rediscovering his inner child, and doing so alongside playful and talented younger actors. The experience, he says, is “a constant reminder of why I got into this business in the first place and what I love about theater and what I love about performing.”

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