Finding Neverland Soars into Philadelphia’s Academy of Music

(PCM) Holiday time is always the perfect opportunity to escape to magical places with loved ones, and what better way to spend Thanksgiving then with Peter Pan.

This holiday, the story of playwright J.M. Barrie and the family that inspired Peter Pan, will soar into the Kimmel Center’s Academy of Music in Philadelphia from Tuesday, Nov. 21 through Sunday, Nov. 26.

The engaging and memorable musical is based on the Oscar-winning film starring Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie, and the play, “The Man Who Was Peter Pan,” by Allan Knee, about Peter Pan, the boy who wouldn’t grow-up.

This is a timeless story about the power of imagination and spectacular proof that you never really have to grow up.

Actress Lael Van Keuren stars in the role of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, who along with her young sons charmed Barrie, a playwright, and inspired him to write a book about Neverland, a place to escape to a lovely world of make believe.

This breathtaking show follows Barrie as he summons the courage to become the writer – and the man – he yearns to be. Barrie finds the inspiration he’s been missing when he meets the beautiful widow Sylvia and her four young sons: Jack, George, Michael and Peter.

Delighted by the boys’ hilarious escapades, Barrie conjures the magical world of Neverland and writes a play unlike any the high-society London theatergoers had ever seen. It’s a tremendous risk, but as Barrie himself has discovered – when you believe, you can fly.

The following is an exclusive interview with 29-year-old Lael Van Keuren shortly before her appearance at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music in “Finding Neverland.”So, when did you first hear about or see “Finding Neverland.”

LAEL VAN KEUREN: I saw it on Broadway and I thought it was simply incredible. My agent set up an audition for me for the first national tour, and I landed the part, and was in the ensemble for the first seven months of this tour, which began in October 2016. I was also the understudy for the part of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, the part that I am playing now.

What happened after that?

LVK: Well, it doesn’t happen often that they bring you in for the lead, but here I am. I started playing Sylvia in this tour five weeks ago. I am thrilled to be playing this role.

What do you love about your character?

LVK:  I love that Sylvia has so much courage. She is so brave. She is a widow and the mom of four boys and caring for them by herself. The show is set in 1903 London, and to be raising four young children on her own is a big deal.

What will the audience love about her?

LVK: She is so attractive because she doesn’t care what anyone thinks about her. She beats to her own drum. She is childlike –and her sole purpose is to provide her children with as much happiness as she can. She is so much fun when she is playing around ,and she has such a big heart.

Do you think she and J.M. Barrie fall for one another in this story?

LVK: Sure. I think of this story as a bit of a love story. A lot of that love comes from the happiness he brings to her children. As a mother, what can bring you more joy than someone making your children happy? So, the show is a love story in a lot of ways.

How did you get started?

LVK:  I am from Sparta, N.J. in rural Sussex County, which is loaded with lush trees and lovely lakes. I moved to New York when I was 13 and my mom moved with me so I could attend a performing arts school in Manhattan. I was going to high school, along with dance class and loved being a city kid. I got my Actor’s Equity Card at age 18, when I was a senior in high school, and started working.

What was your debut?

LVK: I was in the original Broadway cast of “Sister Act,” and it was a dream. I was also in the national tour of that show. I played Philadelphia, and it is one of my top three favorite cities in the U.S. So, I am so happy to be coming back.

Where do you call home when you are not touring?

LVK: I still live in New York; it is home sweet home.

Your mother picked up and moved to Manhattan so you could attend a performing arts school, so has your family has been behind you all the way in this career path?

LVK: Oh, yes. I wouldn’t be doing any of this if it wasn’t for my mom. I am so very lucky. I am also thrilled that my mom, dad and sister are coming to see me when the show is in Philadelphia.

Are you the only professional performer in the family?

LVK:  I am, but my family is very musical. My dad is a dentist but plays piano drums and sings. My sister is also a dentist, but she is a great dancer. My mom was also a dancer, but now she sells real estate.

Everyone knows how difficult a performing arts career can be, did anybody burst your bubble by saying this is too difficult a career path?

LVK: Surprisingly, no. Believe it or not I always knew this was going to be a difficult profession. So, every time I get a show I am surprised. I have always been fairly realistic how competitive and difficult this profession is, but I have always felt this is what I needed to be doing, and where I needed to be — auditioning, and being on stage. Each night its completely different. Each night someone is seeing the show for the first time. So, it is a shared experience with the audience.

How do you spend your spare time off of work?

LVK: I love going to the theater. I am very lucky that a lot of my friends are also in the theater and so even though theater is expensive, which I understand because it is a business, but I always find a way in. I saw “Hamilton” with a standing room ticket, and I get a lot of rush tickets. There is nothing like seeing live theater. It completely rejuvenates and inspires me and I try to see as much as I can.

How long will you be with this tour?

LVK:  I plan being here for the long haul. I know we are booked at least until the end of April.Do you have a lot of friends in the current tour?

LVK: I do have lots of friends here, especially because I did the first eight months of the tour with this company. Coming back was like a big family reunion. My close friend plays the mermaid, and when we hang out we watch “Stranger Things,” on Netflix. I just love hanging out with this cast; everyone is so talented. I tend to do quieter activities when I am not working, like watching movies, to protect my energy and my voice.

What do you want to be doing five years or so from now? Do you have your sights on going back to Broadway?

LVK: I would love to go back to Broadway, it was one of the happiest times of my life, other than the birth of my now two-year-old nephew. I am always open to film and TV. Honestly, first and foremost, I think of myself as storyteller. Any time I am given a chance to tell a great story, I am game, no matter the genre. So, I hope to be doing that for five years, 10 years and beyond.

How do you feel about spending Thanksgiving this year on tour in Philadelphia?

LVK: Great. This is a perfect show for the holidays and I am excited to be there for Thanksgiving. My three godsons, ages, seven, nine and 11, are coming to see me in Philadelphia and I can’t wait for them to experience their Aunt Lael doing all of this magic on stage.

Who should come and see this show?

LVK: Everyone. It is the type of show you can bring your seven-year-old son or daughter and your grandparents. It is also great for a date night. It’s the kind of show that has something for everyone. I think that’s is kind of rare.

Do you have advice to those who want to follow in your footsteps with a career in acting, singing or other difficult paths?

LVK:  When you know that this is what you want to do, then you just have to make it happen. This career can be very difficult. I’ve had high highs and low lows. Emotionally it can be difficult to persevere. Dreaming big can be dangerous because sometimes the answer can be no. But my acting teacher told me to have a thin skin and a thick spine. The thick spine will help you stand through all of the rejection.  So, when the time, show and role is yours, you will be ready for it.

For tickets please call 215-893-1999, go online at kimmelcenter.org, or to the Kimmel Center Box Office.

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