Finding Neverland’s Star Talks Broadway and Beyond
By Pamela Jacobs and Olia Golovkina
James Matthew Barrie is a disappointed writer whose latest play is a disaster. Sylvia Llewelyn Davies, a widow who recently lost her husband to cancer, is the single mother of four boys. The six meet one day at Kensington Gardens in London. They play. They create their own magical realm. Months later, Barrie puts on a play unlike any other; the story of Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Would Not Grow Up goes on to ripple through households, permeating folklore around the world.
Today, the real people who inspired Barrie’s masterpiece come alive on stage in Broadway’s Finding Neverland.
The musical, directed by Tony Award-winner Diane Paulus, stars Matthew Morrison as James Barrie, while Laura Michelle Kelly plays Sylvia Davies. They are joined on stage by Carolee Carmello, Anthony Warlow, and Teal Wicks—the actress behind Mary Ansell Barrie, James Barrie’s socialite wife. Wicks emerged on the Los Angeles musical theater scene in 2008 as Elphaba in Wicked—the show that has won over 100 international awards, including the Grammy Award and three Tonys. She then claimed the role in the San Francisco production, and in 2011, made the big move to Broadway.
In 2013, while playing the role of Emma Carew in Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical on Broadway, Wicks was described as “outstanding and captivating” and “supremely memorable,” and multiple reviews said Wicks “stole the show.” Throughout her career, the word “enchanting” has been used to describe her, both on stage and off. We agree.
We got the chance to sit down with the talented singer and performer and discuss her path to Broadway, as well as her career’s future. We found a charismatic, approachable, kind person who, no doubt, is headed for even bigger things.
Olia Golovkina: What do you like most about your character [Mary Barrie]?
Teal Wicks: What I am enjoying the most is that she’s very different from me. She’s more of, I think, a character than I’ve ever played. She’s cool, she’s kind of cold, she’s kind of snobby. He [her husband James Barrie] is trying to find himself, and she acts very much like a wall that he is constantly hitting against. It was sort of a test for me, as an actor. I mean, I always like to say that I find something of the characters within myself, or try to insert something endearing or relatable and real about the characters, and I found that with her. I think what she does is justified, but on the surface, she is definitely the most character-y, mean lady that I’ve ever played.
Pamela Jacobs: So you’re the first one to play this character on Broadway, and it was a movie before it was turned into a Broadway show. Did you watch the movie and take some of the way it was played, or do you approach it as completely separate?
TW: Well, I loved the movie when it first came out, and I didn’t really remember the wife [Mary Barrie] role all that much, but when I auditioned for the show, I didn’t want to watch the movie again. I knew that it’s the same story, but it’s told in a different way. I remember the movie is beautiful. I also remember it being really sad. And our show—it’s a Broadway musical, so you have to have the ups and fun songs, and dancy songs, and then the ballads, and there’s a lot more humor in it, because you want to make the audiences laugh, and then make them cry. So I just knew that it was going to be different.
OG: And you knew the Peter Pan story?
TW: Yes, I looove Peter Pan. I say it’s my favorite fairy tale.
OG: Is it different now, now that you’re in the [Finding Neverland] production? Do you have a different opinion of the actual [Peter Pan] story?
TW: Yeah, when I saw it before I just loved the fantasy of it all. I wanted to fly, I wanted to hang out with pirates and mermaids and Indians on this magical island where there are fairies and all this stuff. And now, being older, and now knowing more of where the idea for Peter Pan came from—from this man who was still kind of like a child himself, but forced to live in an obviously very mature, very strict social world—I mean Peter Pan is the essence of being carefree, being a child—now it’s probably going to make me cry more than it would make me laugh and dance. Cry in the happy-nostalgia way.
PJ: I know that the show [Finding Neverland] is the only one on Broadway that has a female director-choreographer team, plus there is a large female cast, so it’s really female-driven. Do you sense that? Does it have a feeling of female comradery?
TW: Yes. I think so. One thing I absolutely love, no matter what happens with the show, is the company of people. We are like a little family. Everybody has really great souls, really lovely hearts, and came into the show with lots of passion and really appreciating the show and everybody involved. And that was really special. I mean, in the theater community, there’s a lot of great people, and for the most part, in every production you become like a little family, but this is one of the few shows that everybody across the board is on that same level. And I think that actually has to do with our director, Diane [Paulus]. She seeks out talent and intellect, but I think she also found people that all clicked in together. And I don’t really know how she did that.
PJ: You do seem like a really down-to-earth person.
TW: I try to be. It’s important; I sometimes worry though. It’s like, I wonder if I was a little more of a diva, what that would do, [laughs] if that would give me a little bit more ‘street cred’ in the theater world.
OG: Did you always know that you were going to be a Broadway star?
TW: I always wanted to. I fell in love with it when I was little. I took dance, and my parents always took me to the theater and to any sort of live performance, and I fell in love with the stage. When I realized that that was a career path, I knew that was what I wanted.
PJ: And to me, Broadway seems like it’s the pinnacle of theater. Was it for you always? Like, ‘If I make it to Broadway, I’ve made it’?
TW: Yeah, [laughs] that’s what I always have to keep reminding myself, because now that’s my job.
PJ: Do you always want to stay in theater?
TW: I would love to do other things. I’ve done a little bit of TV [The Good Wife, Elementary, etc.]. I would love to do film, or at least try film. I don’t know if I would love it or if I would hate it; it’s a different world. It has its own timelines and rules and the way it’s shot, so it would be interesting to work on a film to see how different that is.
Teal Wicks’ New York
So where does this New Yorker go once the curtain drops? “I’ve been in New York for almost ten years,” says Wicks, “and I still could not tell you my favorite restaurant.” She is, of course, referring to the wide variety of food options—in Manhattan alone—that make New York the rare city it is. But since we were seated in a coffee shop in the Theater District, Wicks was nice enough to share her favorites in this neck of the (urban) woods.
First off: Coffee.
“Coffee is a little bit of a problem for me,” jokes Wicks. Her designated coffee stop is Frisson Espresso (326 West 47th Street): “That’s kind of like my go-to coffee place. I have a punch card that probably about every two weeks I get free coffee.” Wicks also frequents Blue Bottle Coffee at the Gotham Market (600 11th Avenue). “I’ve lived in San Francisco for a little bit, and I fell in love with Blue Bottle Coffee,” she confesses; the California-based chain of cafés “reminds me of the Ferry Building in San Francisco.”
For a good dinner in the Theater District, Teal Wicks enjoys Bocca di Bacco (635 Ninth Avenue) for its selection of delicious Italian dishes, including antipasti, cured meats, cheeses, pastas, and large plates. She also loved The Marshal (628 Tenth Avenue)—a cozy farm-to-table restaurant. “I love farm-to-table,” says Wicks, “another thing being from California, of course.”
And when asked whether Broadway stars really do attend theater classics like Sardi’s (234 West 44th Street), Teal says that she has definitely been there: “Sardi’s has this great Actor Lunch that’s in-between shows. You can go and get a discount on their menu.” Plus, the bar offers delicious cocktails with complimentary bar snacks. “I’m addicted to bar snacks,” laughs Wicks. And it seems that the rumors are indeed correct, because it’s at Sardi’s that she reports running into Angela Lansbury: “That was really cool. I was like, ‘Oh! Hi, hello, lovely to meet you.’ She was very sweet—very British and very sweet.” She smiles, then adds, “It was one of those, ‘Do I say something? Do I say something? I should say that. I mean, I’m an actress. We do the same thing. We probably know the same people. So this is fine.’”