“Finding Neverland,” the Broadway musical about “Peter Pan” author J.M. Barrie that begins its national tour Sunday night in Shea’s Performing Arts Center after two previews, tells a story about artistic triumph against impossible odds.
The same could be said of the musical itself, whose journey from film to stage was one of the rockiest of any long-running Broadway show in recent memory, and of the producer behind it, who knows a thing or two about success in Buffalo.
“Finding Neverland” producer Harvey Weinstein, the University at Buffalo-educated studio mogul and Miramax co-founder who chose the show for his first major attempt at a Broadway blockbuster, is the first to admit the process didn’t go exactly as planned.
“I probably won’t do it again. But I just wanted to see what it was like. I was curious,” Weinstein, 64, said in phone interview from New York City shortly after finishing a news conference for a new Spike TV docu-series he is co-producing with JayZ. He called the producing the show “one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.”
The musical, which went through two creative teams tweaked and tightened
Despite mixed reviews and reportedly not recouping its original $20 million capitalization, the show had a long and healthy run on Broadway. Another production is planned for London in 2017. And on Thursday, Weinstein headed back to Buffalo to watch a run-through of the show in Shea’s, the same theater where he produced concerts and touring theater productions in the 1970s with his brother Bob and partner Corkey Burger.
For Weinstein, known as a hands-on producer, the Buffalo launch of the national tour presents an opportunity to adjust what wasn’t working in the Broadway show.
The New York State-financed touring production, Weinstein suggested, provided a chance to perfect elements that the team didn’t have time to fine-tune before the show opened its 17-month Broadway run in 2015.
“This was a learning curve for me,” Weinstein said. “Once you do Broadway, because of the tech, the lighting, it’s monstrous to change anything. And wow, is it expensive.”
Weinstein, who launched Miramax out of his Buffalo-based concert promotion business Harvey & Corky Productions in the 1970s, said “Finding Neverland” sits right in his wheelhouse because of its creative subject matter.
“How are stories told?” Weinstein said. “It’s a subject I never get tired of.”
“If I look back at my work,” he continued, “it’s always about inspiration or creativity, whether it’s Alan Turing in ‘Imitation Game’ or the king coming over his stuttering [in ‘The King’s Speech], and how something is created. ‘Shakespeare in Love’ is probably the perfect example of that. I’ve done that so many times because I’m interested in that process.”
But as for the process of creating a Broadway show versus a successful film? Weinstein said the skill sets didn’t match up perfectly.
“It’s like you’re always running out of time,” he said of the Broadway production process. “With a movie, you finish it, you can edit it, you can change it, add different music to it. There’s just a wide range of things that have been done since Irving Thalberg ran MGM, since David Selznick made ‘Gone With the Wind.’... And in the show world, you have to just lock it at a point. You run out of time.”
Asked if he saw any parallels between J.M. Barrie’s struggles as a playwright and his own crash course in Broadway production, Weinstein laughed.
“Probably. I think I needed Charles Frohman to produce it and not me,” he said, referring to the indefatigable producer of Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” a smaller-scale Weinstein of his day.
As for his return to Buffalo – a matter of economic serendipity rather than sentimentality – Weinstein said the opportunity brought up many fond memories. Among them are working with the Buffalo-born choreographer Michael Bennett on a touring version of “A Chorus Line”; bringing productions of “1776” and magician Doug Henning to town; and a Bette Midler performance in the now-demolished Century Theater.
Returning to Buffalo is “very sentimental, it’s actually emotional,” said Weinstein, who graduated from UB and maintains friendships with a group of former UB students, many of whom still live in Western New York. “I have deep affection for the community. I am so proud of the renaissance that’s going on and it’s just a great city. I travel all over the world, and the people in Buffalo are amazing, just really, truly great.”