The Robinson Center will welcome the beloved tale of "Finding Neverland" to its stage Dec. 22-23. The enchanting Broadway musical has been touring the states this fall and is stopping in Little Rock for four performances just in time for Christmas.
Based on the Academy Award-winning film by David Magee, and the play "The Man Who Was Peter Pan" by Allan Knee, "Finding Neverland" follows the relationship between playwright J.M. Barrie and the family that inspired Peter Pan, or "The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up."
This production is presented by an all-star group of creatives including tour director Mia Walker and associate choreographer Camden Loeser; book by James Graham; music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Grammy Award-winner Eliot Kennedy; and original choreography by Emmy Award-winner Mia Michaels. "Finding Neverland" is jam-packed with incredible visuals, irresistible songs surrounding a timeless story about the power of imagination.
We sat down with Conor McGiffin, who plays Charles Frohman and the infamous Captain James Hook. The Dover, Delaware native talks his favorite message from the show, his favorite scene to perform and why playing Captain Hook is like "eating cheesecake every night."
How long have you been touring with Finding Neverland?
We started rehearsal in September and we opened in October, so about three months.
Tell me a little about yourself. How did you get into the business?
I wanted to be an actor ever since I was 8 years old. I was doing children’s theater in Dover, Delaware. Then I studied in college at the University of Michigan. Out of college, I did a showcase. We all do a student showcase our senior year. We all go to New York City and perform in front of agents, casting directors and fellow actors, and I got an audition for a national tour of “Jekyll and Hyde” from that. I can draw a direct line from that audition all the way to playing Charles Frohman in “Finding Neverland.”
What have been some of your favorite roles over the years?
Last year, I understudied The D'Ysquith Family in “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.” That was the thrill of a lifetime to study and perform. He’s nine different characters and nine different costumes. Each change could be anywhere between a minute to 19 seconds. And they’re nine completely different people — nine different wild creatures. I also really enjoyed “Bullets Over Broadway.” I met some of my best friends and I actually met my girlfriend on that tour.
What do you love the most about being on stage?
I honestly love telling a story. When I was 8, it was having everybody looking at me — without having everybody talking to me. It was the best thing to have everybody looking at me but the worst thing to have everybody talking to me. On stage, I was able to get the best of both worlds.
But as I’ve grown older, the selfishness sort of got less and less. I love the idea of becoming a story and being somebody else. Actually, when I was growing up as a teenager, being me was the last thing I wanted to be. I loved becoming somebody else and really delving into these characters and ideas that otherwise I never would have been interested in exploring.
Tell me a little about "Finding Neverland." Were you familiar with this story before working in the production?
I was, actually. I was familiar with the movie. I read the script and I read how deliciously evil Captain Hook was, and I knew I just had to play this character. I have to play this role. I was lucky enough to be cast and I dove right into finding out who Hook was.
And I also learned about the other character I play, Charles Frohman, from a book his brother wrote about him after he died on the RMS Lusitania. He was shot down on a civilian boat and his brother and a colleague of his wrote a book about his whole life.
When I was reading it, I found all these fascinating stories. He had basically been involved with the theater since his parents moved from Ohio to New York in 1884. He had been involved in the theater since he was a child selling playbills in the lobby, sometimes acting, being a pageboy. He then became a stage manager, then an advance agent. He toured the country.
With one show, they lost so much money that the actors had to sell their own clothes. Charles ended up being the last person. He made sure all the actors left first then he only had enough money — I think they were somewhere in Iowa — to get a train to Philadelphia. Then when he got to Philly, he got to a train heading to New York and hid in one of the coal boxes. He would hide in there every time a conductor came by and then he’d hop out and get a gasp of fresh air. It’s such an amazing story and I’ve grown to love playing Charles Frohman in a different way that I love to play Hook.
What do you think the audience will be most moved by when they go to see it?
The show just comes together in an amazing way, the choreography and the music and the sets that our crews are able to do. There’s a scene at the end where we have something called the "glitter vortex." Our character Peter Pan throws glitter up in the air and it starts to make this cyclone of glitter. It’s breathtaking. The music swells to this beautiful point and we’re all singing to this one character. It takes your breath away.
And there’s about 12 numbers like that in the show. Every group number will take your breath away as well as our leads, Ruby Gibbs and Jeff Sullivan, who will break your heart and make you fall in love with them. It’s really just something that audiences won’t be able to take their eyes off of.
And on a personal note, my favorite part of the show is that it treats the characters like real people. These were real people. These boys had lost their father and they’re trying to deal with loss. One character in particular, Peter, is dealing with it in a very private way. It’s not something you typically see kids deal with on stage. Most of the time, kids are like Tiny Tim and they’re always happy in the face of adversity. This musical explores a different idea and I think it’s very important for children to see.
What scene or moment do you look forward to every night?
I really look forward to a song called “Play” in Act 2. All the actors who are putting on the production of “Peter Pan” don’t like where the show is going. They’re not a fan of it. Then my character, Charles Frohman, encourages them to remember what it’s like to be children and how to play. Then at the end of the song, all the actors on stage are just jumping around and whooping and hollering and it’s just so much fun to do it every night. It’s a really big energizer for us before we get into the climax of the show.
What’s it like playing the famous Captain Hook?
It’s eating cheesecake every night. I love it so very much. It’s so much fun. And this version that I’m playing, it’s sort of like a nightmare version that is inspired by the imagination of J.M. Barrie. He sort of comes up out of his subconscious and forces him to write more. Then, later on, we’ll end up seeing the Hook we’re familiar with. When you see my character at the end of Act 1, he’s basically one of the pirates in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He comes out of a ship covered in barnacles. It’s gross and horrifying and horrible. But he’s just so much fun.
For more info about the show and to purchase tickets, head to Celebrity Attractions' website or call (501) 244-8800.