Can the King of Hollywood conquer the West End Harvey Weinstein has staked 7m on turning his film Finding Neverland into a musical. So will it really fly
Finding Neverland the musical is the first show Harvey Weinstein has actively createdThe show is based on the film by the same name about the writer of Peter Pan, J.M Barrie
Weinstein has become increasingly interested in theatre production
The show is starting at Leicester's Curve theatre before a planned move into the West End and then Broadway
21:29 GMT, 27 September 2012
00:08 GMT, 28 September 2012
Captain Hook stretches out a frankly terrifying artificial hand which has already caused several injuries. ‘I could kill for some chocolate,’ he snarls. Peter Pan’s arch enemy with a sweet tooth
But it’s true. Hook, aka actor Oliver Boot, is red-faced and sweaty after six hours of tango — yes, tango! — practice and he needs a sugar rush.
A Mars bar is quickly proffered but then from upstairs comes the noise of what sounds like several cats being slowly drowned. While the chorus for new musical Finding Neverland have started learning how to play the bagpipes, they have not yet learned how to stop the sound. The noise comes from the air slowly being released from the instruments. It’s excruciating.
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Ever young: Julian Ovenden with Rosalie Craig and her onstage children in Finding Neverland the musical, the first musical Harvey Weinstein has actively created
Just over this comes the strains of a boisterous football match being played. There are 13 boys aged six to 12 in the show at various times. And while they may be on their best behaviour in front of the grown-ups, it is their break, so they are back to being small boys.
Every so often a huge dog barks and everyone laughs. Eleven-month-old Porcroft, the understudy to lead dog Yogi, has taken his training a bit far and barks every time someone scratches their head.
Yes, it’s rather surreal being backstage for the UK’s newest musical, Finding Neverland.
‘Before I took on this role, a big part of me worried how I was going to do it and I still do,’ says Julian Ovenden, who takes the lead part of Peter Pan writer J.M. Barrie in the show. ‘I’m singing, dancing, flying and doing sword work. It’s a really exciting process but quite tough — you learn something and then it’s changed and you have to learn it all over again.’
Turning film: Weinstein has staked 7m on turning his film, pictured are Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet in the movie, into a musical
The poor man — who also has two small children at home to deal with after work — looks exhausted. ‘At the weekend I tried to put on a suit that I wore six weeks ago and I’ve lost so much weight it was hanging off me,’ he admits.
There is always pressure staging a new musical. But the cast of Finding Neverland have an additional weight on their shoulders. Step in Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood mogul turned theatre producer.
Harvey has financed Broadway shows before. But this is the first he has actively created. He has sat in the show’s cramped rehearsal rooms with his phone switched off for ten hours a day; Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep and all the other Hollywood A-listers he is working with on films around the world have found their calls diverted.
He has loved every moment of it. ‘It feels like it’s my first movie,’ he says smiling.
‘It’s such a joy. We have so many
great people attached to it and I’m learning every day. The people
around me have allowed me to be in rehearsals whenever I need.
Hollywood: Weinstein has sat in the rehearsal rooms for the show for ten hours a day and has loved every moment, saying 'It feels like it's my first movie'
'My calls are being diverted and I don’t have to spend all my time with people irritating me and asking me questions.’
And all the actors have found working with someone as powerful as him a welcome — if demanding — novelty.
‘I don’t know how he manages to work that hard and be as passionate as he is,’ says Julian. ‘You can tell this show is being run by a powerful man. There are a lot of people, really good facilities. It feels like nothing is too big a challenge. He is open to so many ideas.
‘Yes, he is demanding, but in a good way. If you are doing something there is no point in doing it anything less than brilliantly.’
Although winning Oscars and making fabulous films has always been Harvey’s raison d’etre — along with his brother Bob he has produced dozens of hit films including Shakespeare In Love, The Artist, The English Patient, Good Will Hunting, Kill Bill and Cold Mountain — he has become increasingly interested in theatre production.
And Finding Neverland the musical may just be the first of several productions of his most popular works. The film released in 2004 focused on Barrie, who was played by Johnny Depp, and his fascination with widow Sylvia Llewellyn Davies (Kate Winslet) and her four sons, who inspired him to write his greatest work, Peter Pan.
The musical takes things one step further — the romance between Barrie and Sylvia becomes more central, the blurring between Barrie’s reality and fantasies are developed. There are also a lot more pirates and mermaids.
‘I always felt that Finding Neverland touched people in an emotional way,’ says Harvey. ‘And I love doing things about the creative process because it’s fun to see how things are made — especially something as popular at Peter Pan.’ It helps that the story remains as popular now as it was when Barrie wrote the play in 1904.
‘I think none of us want to grow up,’ says Harvey. ‘We all like to keep our childish imagination. Quite a lot of people I work with would probably say that I actually haven’t grown up.’
Harvey recruited the multi-talented Tony Award-winning director and choreographer Rob Ashford to help him put the show together. There was an initial plan to stage it first on Broadway, but then Johnny Depp stepped in.
‘Johnny was the one who made me premiere the film in England and he did it again with the show,’ says Harvey. ‘He said that I must start it in Britain because it is such a British story and he also said that we must support the Great Ormond Street Hospital Children’s Charity [which is the beneficiary of all Peter Pan royalties], which we are planning to do.’
Pressure is on: With Hollywood mogul turned theatre producer Weinstein at the helm, the pressure is on for the cast including Oliver Boot as Hook, pictured
Johnny’s daughter was treated at Great Ormond Street and ten children from Leicester who have been patients at the hospital are being invited to the show’s premiere next Wednesday.
Rob adds: ‘We have been trying to get to the truth of this story and it makes sense to come to the source so we don’t get the Googled American truth, but actually understand what it would have been like.’
Harvey and Rob have been working on the show — which has cost 7 million — for more than two years. They have hired the best songwriters to produce a completely new score, and an experienced West End cast.
Eton-educated Julian — whose father is chaplain to the Queen — was handpicked by Rob and didn’t even have to audition. The two were working together at London’s Donmar theatre on Merrily We Roll Along when Rob realised he had found his Barrie.
‘During the show Julian had to go from being an old man to a naive youth and that was just like Barrie, who became a child again through those boys,’ says Rob.
Julian, who found fame in ITV’s Foyle’s War as the son of Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle (Michael Kitchen), didn’t even have time to get nervous. ‘Rob mentioned to me he had this great project and he wanted me to meet Harvey Weinstein. And then he said, “Harvey’s just around the corner so let’s go and talk to him.”’
Harvey says of Julian: ‘I thought he was amazing.’
Found fame: Julian Ovenden, who plays the lead part of Peter Pan writer, found fame in ITV's Foyle's War, pictured right with Michael Kitchen
Rosalie Craig plays Sylvia and got the role after several auditions. She was still performing at the Open Air Theatre in Ragtime most nights while rehearsing for the show by day. Harvey admits he was instantly smitten.
‘Rosalie has got magic,’ he says. ‘Some days she reminds me of Cate Blanchett because of the way she looks and then other times all you can think about is her golden voice. And when I went to see her she was so good with my kids; I know when people are being warm and when they are being phony warm. She is a sweetheart for real.’
Oliver Boot plays the twin role of Hook and the theatre critic Blunt — who is Barrie’s biggest nemesis. ‘I want to go on record right now before the reviews come out and say that we do not think that all theatre critics are Captain Hook,’ jokes Harvey. ‘Only the ones that give us bad reviews.’
The show is starting with a short run at Leicester’s Curve theatre before a planned move into the West End and then Broadway. There will need to be bums on seats for a year before Harvey sees any of his money back.
He says: ‘I have a British wife [fashion designer Georgina Chapman] and when I said Leicester she replied “cheese”. I had never heard of Leicester before but the theatre is tremendous — and they have never seen a show like this before.’
It is, perhaps, a risk not to have gone for a ‘big’ name to open the show. But Harvey insists: ‘How do you beat Julian and Rosalie You can’t beat these guys.’
Anyway he is planning to get Kate, Johnny and Dustin Hoffman (who played producer Charles Frohman in the original film) along to see it.
In attendance: Weinstein intends to get Johnny Depp, right, and Dustin Hoffman, left who also starred in the film, along to see the musical
Each show features 170 costumes — even the dog has one — while the growing shapes of the actors have provided some challenges for the wardrobe department.
‘We have three sets of families of four boys — plus one spare — and they have all grown since we started,’ says costume designer Paul Wills. ‘Then a lot of the actors have started to become leaner since rehearsals began.’
Most of the costumes have been reproduced from original turn-of-the-19th-century attire, while a few have been hired.
There have also been some unusual sources of inspiration. ‘We wanted to get an authentic Victorian feel for some of the costumes and one day one of our designers brought in a patchwork Victorian tea cosy which we all loved — so watch out for that look.’
One headache has been getting the right hook for Hook — he is now on his fourth incarnation.
‘They want this hook to look dangerous so it keeps getting bigger and sharper — which also makes it more vicious,’ says Oliver, waving it around.
‘It is now this huge shiny weapon but the problem is it keeps hooking onto other people’s clothes. We have already had a few injuries — poor Julian has some cuts — and I have to be careful not to kill someone with it.’
All the clothes have to be washed nightly after a show as so much sweating goes on.
‘By the time Julian and I get to kiss we are both hideously perspiring,’ says Rosalie. ‘Very romantic.’
So there has been blood, sweat and, no doubt, a few tears and the show doesn’t even have its premiere until Wednesday. But Harvey already has his eye on the future.
‘We’ve got a long road ahead, but if this is a hit I would love to turn it into a film,’ he says.
And who is going to bet against Harvey
Finding Neverland is at the Curve, Leicester. Visit findingneverlandthemusical.com
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