Finding Neverland

Finding Neverland, Broadway’s biggest new hit and the winner of Broadway.com’s Audience Choice Award for Best Musical, is playing The Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale through June 25.

(Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Based on the Academy award-winning Miramax motion picture 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 – one of the most beloved stories of all time.

Directed by Tony-winner Diane Paulus (Pippin, Hair) with book by Olivier Award-nominee James Graham, music and lyrics by Gary Barlow (Take That) and Grammy Award- winner Eliot Kennedy, and choreography by Emmy Award-winner Mia Michaels (“So You Think You Can Dance,” Cirque du Soleil’s Delirium), this new musical, packed with mesmerizing visuals, irresistible songs and plenty of laughs, is a timeless story about the power of imagination… and spectacular proof that you never really have to grow up.

It was a pleasure to sit down with Will Ray, who plays the lead role of J.M. Barrie, for this Hotspots exclusive interview:

Q: Were you always a performer, even as a kid, or when did you get “the bug”?

A: I actually haven’t always been a performer. In fact, growing up my dad was a college coach and I played sports all throughout my childhood. I was captain of our high school football team, a starter on our basketball team and a letter man in track and field. However, after joining choir with some of my buddies my sophomore year, I decided to audition for the school musical the following year. That is when I caught “the bug” and fell in love with theater. I hung up my cleats and took to the stage. We had a great high school arts program and my director took me under her wing and, with her encouragement, auditioned at a number of musical theater college programs my senior year. I went on to attend the University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music and upon graduation moved directly to NYC. I have been acting ever since!

Q: What was your first professional/paid gig?

A: My first professional paid acting gig came following my freshman year of college. Back then the University of Cincinnati had a summer rep theater series called Hot Summer Nights. I was in the ensemble of Oliver, in which I played the knife grinder. This role has a small solo in the song, “Who Will Buy,” that was actually too low for my voice at the time so instead of having this deep baritone knife grinder, you had this skinny 18 year old kid belting out his solo lines which must have been pretty hilarious looking back on it.  I also played Butch, one of the cut dancers in A Chorus Line, that summer. I’ve never been an amazing dancer hence my playing a cut dancer, but you better believe for that iconic opening number, I thought I was up there giving you a Broadway Tony award winning dance performance!

Q: You have played some iconic Broadway roles. Other than your current role, what has been your favorite role?

A: My favorite role I’ve had the opportunity to play would have to be Jean Valjean in Les Miserables.  I was fortunate enough to get to play the role over 60 times this past year on Broadway. Les Miserables was the first musical that I was introduced to back in high school and I fell in love with it.  I remember listening to Colm Wilkinson on that 10th anniversary album over and over in my basement. Never did I dream that I would actually get to go out onto a Broadway stage one day and tell Victor Hugo’s classic tale through the eyes of its protagonist, Jean Valjean. It was truly a dream come true.

Q:  What is your fantasy role to play?

A: A fantasy role of mine would have to be either Jerry in The Full Monty or Bobby in Company.  Both characters come with so many flaws and go through some pretty incredible emotional journeys throughout the show to truly find themselves. Not to mention they both get to sing some pretty amazing scores!

Q: What should South Florida audiences expect from the touring production of Finding Neverland?

A: I think Florida audiences will really be amazed by this production of Finding Neverland.  There have been some great rewrites and additions since the Broadway production, which I believe are some terrific improvements. There is truly something for everyone in this show young and old alike. You will, without a doubt, be thrilled by some of the sets and special effects and walk out of the theater humming the tunes from this catchy score. You’ll laugh, you may shed a tear, and then you’ll laugh again! For the children in the audience, this will be perhaps the first time that they’ve been introduced to this timeless story of imagination. For the adults, it is a reminder that we all still have a piece of that child inside of us. One thing is for sure, it will definitely be a memorable night at the theater. Hope to see you there!

Tickets for FINDING NEVERLAND, are available at the Broward Center AutoNation Box Office, 201 SW Fifth Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33312, browardcenter.org or call 954.462.0222. Orders for groups of ten or more may be placed by calling 954.660.6307. Ticket prices start at $40.25*.

For more tour and casting information: FindingNeverlandTheMusical.com or follow them on Social media at:

Facebook: facebook.com/FindingNeverlandTheMusical

Twitter.com/NeverlandBway

Instagram: @FNLmusical