Find your way to finding Neverland

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The world premiere of the musical Finding Neverland comes to Leicester later this month, thanks to a legendary film producer, writes John Baker.

The stage version of the 2004 Johnny Depp movie runs at the futuristic Curve theatre from September 22 to October 13, before it goes to London’s West End.

Stagecoach Theatre School annual summer school at The Grand Theatre, Lancaster.The cast of Peter Pan's Adventures in Neverland"

Stagecoach Theatre School annual summer school at The Grand Theatre, Lancaster.The cast of Peter Pan's Adventures in Neverland"

It has cost a mammoth £7 million to create the world of pirate ships sailing across the stage, mermaids dancing and magical gardens.

A production of that scope needs a strong hand at the helm – and this show has one of the strongest.

Hollywood giant Harvey Weinstein is the man behind Miramax, the multiple Oscar winning company responsible for films such as The Artist, Shakespeare in Love, Good Will Hunting, and many more.

He has teamed up with Olivier and Tony Award winning director/choreographer Rob Ashford (Guys and Dolls, Anna Christie) to bring the show to the multi-million pound venue.

The show is described as the feel-good musical for families and grown-ups who haven’t fully grown up!

The story begins the day after James Barrie’s new play The Wedding Guest has flopped.

Walking with his dog Porthos in Kensington Gardens he meets beautiful widow Sylvia Llewellyn Davies, and her four boys Jack, George, Michael and Peter.

Inspired by their hilarious and fun-filled misadventures he creates the magical and beloved world of Peter Pan.

Rising stars Julian Ovenden (BBC Proms and Foyle’s War) and Rosalie Craig (Ragtime – Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park) lead the cast.

Tickets are £14.50 to £34.50 (discounts available), available on 0116 242 3595 or www.curveonline.co.uk.

At the show’s preview night Harvey and Rob chatted with Leicester Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby before fielding questions from BBC Radio Leicestershire’s Jonathan Lampon and members of a 150-strong audience, who were later treated to several songs from the musical.

The Peterborough Telegraph - part of the Johnston Press group - was granted an exclusive interview with Harvey - just before he travelled to London for the GQ awards.

Give us an overview of what Finding Neverland means to you.

Finding Neverland is a musical that will enchant a family, a husband and wife, boyfriend and girlfriend, or group of friends together.

It’s always been magical to me. I loved making the movie in Richmond in London all those years ago with Johnny Depp, who was a partner on the film.

He was so creative and bright, and he always said that we should keep Finding Nevenland in London the first time we did it as a movie, because I was going to do it in Los Angeles.

Now again with the musical, I could have done this in Broadway or California, which would have been easier for me geographically - but spiritually it was the wrong thing to do.

I wanted to bring it out of London and this theatre is so beautiful. It’s one of the great facilities.

How much easier did the theatre make the show, in terms of how you wanted to do it?

The show is £7 million, a big show, not a touring production or a cut down version.

This will be the one that goes to the West End – so what people are seeing here is the West End Show first.

So normally you see a West End Show and they cut it down for the tour, but this is the complete opposite.

Is everything going according to plan in terms of production and rehearsals?

Rehearsals are great, we know what we are doing, the songs are great. The cast is wonderful and they have great chemistry together.

It’s great to work with Rob Ashford the choreographer/director.

He’s made it easy for you?

We made it easier for each other! I concentrate on story and Rob knows the music and choreography.

Between us we both have strong points, so we are a great team and working with him is a pleasure.

What are the differences between a stage production and a film?

It’s a musical; there are dancers, choreography, big numbers, a car moving across the stage, and the pirate ship which comes out of nowhere.

It’s all about how you create things like that, and making sure that the lighting is perfect. There are all sorts of other tricks that I’m not going to give away.

It’s so much easier doing a movie because we say ‘cut’, and then we put the special effects in, and then we say ‘action’.

But the conjuring and magic of a theatrical production has to be so invisible and well timed.

The pirate ship was my idea, and it was impossibly hard, but we’ve done it.

I was an investor in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and I saw that car fly, and I remembered the light that I saw on the audience and the effect on them.

So do you get nervous putting these shows together?

I don’t, but there’s a funny story because the Broadway crews all know me while the English crews don’t.

I was sitting here and they were so great at what they were doing, but they were having a little problem with flying the kite,

They said ‘I wish someone knew David Copperfield’, and I said ‘I do!’

I called him and he is going to help us with a little trick we are going to do. That was the one moment where I really impressed them.

When you were younger were you a fan of the story of Peter Pan?

Always. In America we used to have Mary Martin, who did a Peter Pan TV special choreographed and directed by Jerome Robbins, who later went on to do West Side Story.

The English star Cyril Ritchard was Captain Hook, and the Indians were fun and Mary was probably 50 when she played Peter Pan - but us kids just loved it, even if it was black and white.

So is this a proud moment for you?

It is, because I have always loved Peter Pan.

I was at the Olympics with my girls and we went to the opening ceremony when JK Rowling came out and did Peter Pan.

My kids grew up on Harry Potter and so when the author of Harry Potter says Peter Pan is ‘it’, then Peter Pan is really getting his groove on!

What are your ambitions for the show after Leicester and London?

For this show it’s Broadway, and after that I’m going to do another one – I’ll find another one of the movies that I made, and we’ll take that show and do the same thing. Or I’ll find an original book.

I always loved Rodgers and Hammerstein. I would sit and watch The King and I and would say ‘That’s amazing’, because the story was as good as the music.

It’s hard to be as good as them, but we can tell the stories and we have composers today who are pretty damn good.

The hardest thing for Broadway musicals is just to tell a story, and the thing I’m most proud of in my movies in the past 25 years is that we have more screenplay wins than any company in history.

My parents had a rich tradition about reading – and I followed in their path.

Where does this rank among your achievements?

This is one of my great experiences and one of the things I‘ve had the most fun doing. I make movies – some are fun, some are tough - but this is probably the most fun I’ve had.

It’s been hard, but I’ve really enjoyed the spirit of creativity