Friday, March 10, 2017

A Hook Among the Stars in Finding Neverland at ASU Gammage

Billy Harrigan Tighe and Tom Hewitt
photo by Jeremy Daniel
by Jennifer Haaland

An impressive Broadway acting path of playing bad guys and serious roles has lead Tom Hewitt to a magic-laced comedic place. His current national tour with Finding Neverland, the highflying Peter Pan back story, touches ground at ASU Gammage next week, Tuesday through Sunday.

Hewitt visited from the road about his double-role as protagonist James Barrie's producer and the infamous Captain Hook.  He's a leading character in the story of how playwright Barrie came up with the inspiration to write Peter Pan and include a pirate nemesis.  The lush musical packed up after it's strong box office run on Broadway last year to head out across the country.

"The musical completely changed the tone from the movie [Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet 2005]. It's no longer a sorrowful tale of loss. It's about a romantic hero who finds the courage to tell his own story," Hewitt began.

"We take the iconic story of Peter Pan, and because it's so locked into our minds, we can deviate from it to tell more stories," he further explained while offering a description of his own role. "I get to be the curmudgeonly, tightfisted producer who also becomes Captain Hook."

Though now a pirate, it hasn't always been that way for Hewitt. As a Tony Award nominee (Rocky Horror Show) with Broadway credits bulging from his pantaloons (Amazing Grace, Doctor Zhivago, Jesus Christ Superstar, Dracula, Lion King), he described how this role is a departure from others he's played.

"I get laughs! It's a fun difference when I'm so often the serious or heavy guy," he gleefully fired off. "But also, I had the honor of playing Hook in Cathy Rigby's Peter Pan (2009-10, 2011). In Finding Neverland, I get to re-explore a character I've already played. Here, I get to bring the history of Hook to life."

The really tricky element of this iteration is that Hook is born of James Barrie's psyche right on stage. The character appears to Barrie on a self-pitying night in a dark, unknown corner of his imagination.

"I'm in a unique position to goad Barrie. I  sort of force him to 'pirate up,' which makes him able to find the courage of his own convictions."

Hewitt further considered the tour production alongside what folks in New York may have seen on Broadway, saying, "A lot of changes have been made in the first half hour and the last 15 minutes of the show. In some ways it's a completely different production. That's the result of a theatre lab. I was asked to participate in sessions that helped create 'our' show. Our input is stamped into this production."

Child characters and huge fluffy dogs (Who can forget Nana when memories of Peter Pan start flying?) make Neverland a perfect introductory show for young families Hewitt noted, remarking, "It's rewarding to see how they are visibly moved by this show whose magic is unapologetically theatrical."

From a show with a second act number entitled "We're All Made of Stars"  and an actor who himself has shone and floated amongst stars for decades, Finding Neverland comprises an enticing chemistry.  Soaring melodic emotion and impossible dreams granted  in unlikely ways are made of the stuff that draw crowds again and again to musical theatre.

"The fact is the audiences are really touched by it. It was an exquisitely sad movie, but the tone of the show is completely changed by a score that is unabashedly British pop," Hewitt concluded.  "There's a certain unforgettable alchemy that has to do with the creation of joy in the presence of sorrow and loss."

CLICK HERE for more information on Finding Neverland, which plays at ASU Gammage from March 14th to March 19th

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