UB alumnus manages production of 'Finding Neverland'

Broadway musical to kickoff nationwide tour in Buffalo


Buffalo will be the first stop for the musical “Finding Neverland” as it embarks on a national tour fresh off a run on Broadway.

On Wednesday, the load-in process was in high gear as backgrounds, lights and props for “Finding Neverland” were rolled onto the 90-year-old theater’s stage.

Based on the 2004 film of the same name, “Finding Neverland” follows the backstory of Peter Pan. London playwright J.M. Barrie encounters a grieving Sylvia Davies and her four children, finding the inspiration to create Peter Pan from the stories Davies’ children make up.

“Finding Neverland” is directed under the eye of Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus and will feature talent such as Kevin Kern, Christine Dwyer and Tom Hewitt (who play J.M. Barrie, Sylvia Davies and Captain Hook, respectively).

The show is set to open Oct. 7and there will be 10 performances at Shea’s Performing Arts Center until Oct. 15. After the show’s run in Buffalo ends, “Finding Neverland” will head off to Pittsburgh and Rochester.

Jason Juenker, a production manager for the Maryland-based theater company NETworks, was elated when he found out the play would launch in his hometown of Buffalo.

Juenker went to school at Williamsville East before moving up to SUNY Potsdam and later to UB. He’s managed production for many plays in the past, but getting the Peter Pan-based “Finding Neverland” up and running at Shea’s Performing Arts Center will be a special experience for the Buffalo native.

“We do twelve shows this [theater] season and this is the only one I wanted to work on,” Juenker said. “I wanted to be in Buffalo and bring the show to the area. After all these years, it’s just an amazing experience to finally start a show up here in my hometown.”

Juenker wasn’t fully aware as a child where Barrie drew his inspiration when writing “Peter Pan” but his perception has changed.

“Growing up and seeing all these movies [about Peter Pan], that was the end of it. I only saw the product,” Juenker said. “I never got to experience or understand how [the story] was created.”

Just as Barrie was inspired to write the story of Peter Pan thanks to the children he comes across in the play, Juenker finds himself motivated by the forces he interacts with on the job.

“It’s such an interesting story about how a playwright is down on his luck and was able to find this inspiration in the people that he met,” Juenker said. “I try to do that in my job, finding inspiration with the people who are around me.”

One of Juenker’s co-workers, assistant production manager Emma Downey, also works with NETworks. The company is currently in charge of productions such as “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Elf the Musical” at theaters around the country.

Preparations must begin early on for the top-tier productions that NETworks puts on. The first day of “Finding Neverland’s” load-in process at Shea’s began Tuesday. On Wednesday, workers hoisted equipment onto hard-to-reach platforms and there were a variety of differently colored lights on stage.

“It’s so inspiring to see everything pieced together among the set,” Downey said. “The whole set is gorgeous and beautiful. When it all comes together, that’s when the magic is really created.”

The production team for “Finding Neverland” involves 14 members on crew and another 59 members who are picked up in each city to work on the show’s production. At the end of all the intense planning and work that goes into each performance by the production team, it all pays off.

“There are a lot of very special moments. The end of Act I, where we create a pirate ship on stage, is something you wouldn’t necessarily see in a touring show. I think that’s of huge [interest],” Juenker said.

Another key moment in the musical happens toward the end, when a vortex of glitter appears on stage.

“The glitter vortex was one of those awe-inspiring moments on stage when I saw it on Broadway and I can’t wait to recreate it here – it’s going to be great,” Juenker said.

Many theater enthusiasts are looking forward to “Finding Neverland” and what it is bringing to the Queen City.

Kathy Gregoire, a theatergoer who lives in the Buffalo region, has been to shows in the past at Shea’s and is proud this show has arrived in the city.

“It is exciting to be recognized by the theater community by having “Finding Neverland” launch their tour here,” Gregoire said.

Gregoire, who is well aware of Buffalo’s rich history, said the show will definitely fit in with the theater’s reoccurring theme of hosting timeless plays and musicals.

“Shea’s is definitely the jewel of Buffalo,” Gregoire said. “It’s great that ‘Finding Neverland’ has come here to kick off the theater season. It just goes to prove that in Buffalo we have first class shows come to the area.”

Benjamin Blanchet is a staff writer and can be reached at arts@ubspectrum.com