Audiences who saw "Finding Neverland" on Broadway might notice a number of changes when the 2015 musical makes its Chicago debut at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. But that's par for the course for this high-profile stage adaptation of the hit 2004 Miramax film about "Peter Pan" creator J.M. Barrie and the four young brothers who inspired him.
From film to stage, "Finding Neverland" has been a pet producing project of Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. After a tepid critical response for the musical's 2012 world premiere at the Leicester Curve Theatre in England, Weinstein fired most of the creative team.
"Finding Neverland"Location: Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, (800) 775-2000 or broadwayin chicago.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and Dec. 4 (no shows Nov. 24), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday and Nov. 23 and 25; from Nov. 22 through Dec. 4
Based upon a suggestion from actor and future late-night TV host James Corden, Weinstein sought out Gary Barlow (formerly of the British boy band Take That) with Eliot Kennedy to write a more accessible pop-influenced score. Tony Award-winning director Diane Paulus ("Pippin") was brought aboard to helm the revamped musical.
"I remember a director saying that you don't finish a new show, you open a new show," said Tony Award-nominee Tom Hewitt, an actor in "Finding Neverland" who plays the dual roles of theater producer Charles Frohman and the villain Captain Hook.
For the tour, "Finding Neverland" has undergone further tweaking. Hewitt said the first 20 minutes and ending are vastly different from Broadway. Other script changes by playwright James Graham paved the way for new songs.
"The Broadway show works like gangbusters, people loved it and (the producers) could have easily just mounted that production," Hewitt said. "But all of the creatives felt that they could make it better."
Hewitt said he and the touring cast were happy to put their own stamp on the show, especially the new material.
"Diane Paulus encouraged us to bring what we bring to these particular roles," Hewitt said. "We were given a great deal of freedom to create our own stuff. I never really felt obligated to re-create what (original star) Kelsey Grammer did."
Hewitt has played Captain Hook on tour opposite Cathy Rigby in the well-known 1954 musical version of "Peter Pan." But in "Finding Neverland," Hewitt says Hook is more of an imaginary manifestation to inspire J.M Barrie (Kevin Kern) to "pirate up" and explore his darker side.
"Hook here is not so much the effete dandy -- it's a different angle and he's more of Keith Richards (of the Rolling Stones)," Hewitt laughed. "It's really fun."
Hewitt has previously played Chicago with tours of "Urinetown," "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and the pre-Broadway run of "Amazing Grace." But for Hewitt's "Finding Neverland" co-star, Chicago Heights native Dwelvan David, this will be his first time playing one of Chicago's Broadway-sized Loop theaters.
"I am so excited to be returning to Chicago and finally being on what is sometimes called 'the big stage,'" said David, who forged his acting career locally in productions such as "Hot Mikado" at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire and "Ragtime" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.
Though David left Chicago to move to New York, he's glad that he got his start here and cited local actors such as Tony Award nominee Felicia P. Fields ("The Color Purple") and Susan Moniz ("Fun Home") for being so encouraging.
"I know a lot of people who went directly to New York out of college and got disheartened and ultimately left the business," David said. "Being in Chicago, I felt that even if I wasn't working, I was able to be a part of a theatrical community that I felt wanted the best for me and wanted me to succeed. So when I did finally leave, I felt like all of those people were supporting me in my decision to try to take the next step."