Christine Dwyer on 'Finding Neverland': 'It's like coming home again'

Finding Neverland. Christine Dwyer. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
“Sylvia says, ‘I am going to live my life to the fullest. I don’t care if people feel that it’s wrong. And that was unheard of at that time.” Pictured: Christine Dwyer in the national touring production of ‘Finding Neverland.’ Photo by Carol Rosegg.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The first national touring production of Finding Neverland opens in Denver on Dec. 20. DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore was given exclusive access to the principal cast and creative team, and we are posting his extensive interviews in a seven-part series here on the DCPA NewsCenter. Part 5: Christine Dwyer, who plays the widow James Graham. Next: Tom Hewitt.

Fans of Harry Potter and Wicked owe a debt to J. M. Barrie for his risk in putting Peter Pan on stage a century ago, she says.

By John Moore
For the DCPA NewsCenter

Broadway actor Christine Dwyer thinks we have J. M. Barrie to thank for the boy wizard Harry Potter, the good-girl witch Elphaba and hundreds of fantastical young characters in between. It all starts a century ago with the man who was willing to break with the tradition of the stodgy London theatre and put children center stage.

“No one was writing about children back then,” said Dwyer, who plays the widow Sylvia Llewelyn Davies in Finding Neverland, the story of how Barrie found his calling – and his voice – with inspiration from Sylvia and her four young sons.

Finding Neverland Christine Dwyer Quote“No one was writing things dealing with your imagination and fantasy,” Dwyer said. “They were writing about very specific and realistic things in their lives. People wanted to go to the theatre to see themselves on stage and not kids flying around or a crazy guy named Captain Hook with no hand.

“We are used to having Harry Potter and Wicked. We are in that world now. But it’s really because of Peter Pan and J. M. Barrie. What he wrote back then allowed for all the stories that have come since.”

It was more than risky for Barrie to put his play on a London stage before high-minded, high-society theatergoers of the time. “It was dangerous and potentially career-ending for him to write this story, because at that time, stories were written for adults, period,” Dwyer said. “Children were meant to be seen and not heard. They were pushed to the side.”

And yet, Peter Pan has become a cultural phenomenon that lives on more than a century later. “This is true of any true artist,” Dwyer said. “You have to break boundaries and tell a story that hasn’t been told before.”

Dwyer has been able to play some extraordinary women in her stage career, including Elphaba in Wicked, Maureen in Rent and even Tommy in The Who’s Tommy. “But I’ve never play someone who actually existed,” she said, “someone who actually went outside the box and societal norms.”   

Christine Dwyer and Kevin Kern. Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg.The real Davies’ life got turned upside down when her husband passed away. Her decision to raise her children as a single mother rather than re-marry for convention and stability flew like Peter Pan in the face of the day’s custom.

“She says, ‘I am going to live my life for myself and my kids. And I don’t care if people feel that it’s wrong. I’m living my life to the fullest.’ And that was unheard of at that time.

“I love to play her because she’s different from the other woman I have been able to play. She’s lighter and airier … and she’s a soprano. I don’t get to do those often. She’s a groundbreaking woman and I love her. She’s childlike and fun, but she’s also grounded. She’s truly happy to be living in every moment.”  

(Pictured above and right: Christine Dwyer and Kevin Kern from the national touring production of ‘Finding Neverland.’ Photo by Carol Rosegg.)

Dozens of plays, musicals and movies have their roots in Peter Pan. Finding Neverland is different, Dwyer says, because it is the creation story of how the iconic character came to be.

“A lot of other stories like Peter and the Starcatcher and Hook are more about the story that J. M. Barrie wrote, and the characters he created,” she said. “Our story is about the people he met who inspired him to write that story. So this is the story before the story.” 

Dwyer describes the theatrical experience of attending Finding Neverland to be “like coming home again.”

“When you leave the theatre, all you want to do is be home with your family and loved ones,” she said. Life can get kind of stressful, and sometimes you forget how much you love home – whatever ‘home’ is to you. It might not be with your family – it might be with this amazing group of friends that you found in Denver, Colorado. But however you define it, Finding Neverland makes you want to go home again and be around the people you love.”

Here’s more of John Moore’s conversation with Christine Dwyer:

Finding Neverland. Photo by Carol Rosegg

Cast of the national touring production of ‘Finding Neverland.’ Photo by Carol Rosegg.

John Moore:  When you were first introduced to the story of Peter Pan?

Christine Dwyer: I was really introduced to it through the movie Hook with Robin Williams. I was probably 10 or 11. I love that movie so much. The way that story is set-up is similar in a way to Finding Neverland. It’s less about following the kids and more about J. M. Barrie trying to find his imagination and his inner-child again.

John Moore: Why does Peter Pan remain such a timeless source for new material?

Christine Dwyer: I think it’s timeless because Peter Pan is timeless. He never grows up. And you can always connect that idea to different people you know. When I am around some people in my life, I feel like a kid again. And that’s important because as adults we can still have fun and follow our dreams. But we fall into routine and take on responsibilities as we grow older. We forget how important it is to have a childlike enthusiasm throughout our whole lives. Peter Pan reminds us of that.

John Moore:  What was it like working with Director Diane Paulus and such an unconventional creative team?

Christine Dwyer: The cool thing about our show that it’s set in 1903, but the music is very contemporary British pop. It’s a nice contrast between the old and the new. Mia Michaels’ choreography is so interesting. If anyone has watched So You Think You Can Dance, you know her choreography. It is so specific, and so different from anything I have ever seen in a Broadway musical – which makes it perfect for a show like ours. You will see characters in these full three-piece suits and beautiful dresses with corsets, and yet they are doing this cool modern choreography. Diane and Mia are able to create these gorgeous pictures, which is so perfect for the fantasy element of our show.  

More Colorado theatre coverage on the DCPA NewsCenter

John Moore: Right turn: What’s one thing you want to get off your chest?

Christine Dwyer: Just because people are different than you doesn’t mean they’re wrong in their opinion. I think if we all spent a little more time trying to communicate with each other and listening to each other, we would all be better off. You can only learn and you can only grow by being around people who are different from you.  

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist.

Finding Neverland: Ticket information
• Dec 20 through Jan. 1
• Buell Theatre
• Cast talkback: After the Dec. 21 performance
• ASL interpreted, Audio-described and Open Captioned performance: Dec. 30
• Tickets: 303-893-4100 or BUY ONLINE
• Groups: Call 303-446-4829 

Selected Previous NewsCenter coverage:
Finding Neverland
creative team, Part 1: Director Diane Paulus
Finding Neverland creative team, Part 2: Choreographer Mia Michaels
Finding Neverland creative team, Part 3: Composers Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy
Finding Neverland creative team, Part 4: Book writer James Graham
Diane Paulus on the rise of ‘adventure theatre’
Finding Neverland flies onto Denver Center’s 2016-17 Broadway season

Bonus coverage: Christine Dwyer on Murder Ballad
Christine Dwyer appeared in one of the first productions of the new rock musical Murder Ballad, which recently made its Colorado premiere at the Edge Theatre in Lakewood. She played Sara, a young mother whose Upper West Side life is perfect until she crosses paths with a dangerous man from her past. Dwyer was asked about her experience with the show.

Christine Dwyer: To be in a production with just four people that is really stripped down and in your face was just edgy and cool. It was a very immersive experience. It’s 75 very physical minutes on the stage. We were jumping around on pool tables right next to the audience while they were drinking their beers. So you really had to rely on each other. That made the cast really close, too, and I’m still on a chat chain with all of those guys almost two years later. I loved that show – and I want to do it again.

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