Actor revisits Hook in ‘Finding Neverland’ at PlayhouseSquare in Cleveland

The national tour of “Finding Neverland” isn’t Tom Hewitt’s first experience playing Captain Hook.

The Tony-nominated actor previously played the role opposite Cathy Rigby in a tour of the musical “Peter Pan.”

“That was just one of the funnest things I’ve ever done,” Hewitt said during a telephone interview from Buffalo, where the tour premiered. “To examine the character in a completely different context was very very appealing.”

“Finding Neverland,” which opens Tuesday for a three-week run at PlayhouseSquare’s Connor Palace, tells the story of J.M Barrie, the man who wrote the original “Peter Pan” play in 1904. In addition to playing Pan’s nemesis in the story, Hewitt also plays Charles Frohman, the play’s producer. The musical by Gary Barlow, Eliot Kennedy and James Graham is based on the 2004 movie starring Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet and Dustin Hoffman.

“What appeals to me about this show overall is largely due to Diane Paulus’ beautiful direction,” he said. “There is a kind of overt, unapologetic theatricality to the whole production. It’s a show about a show. It’s a show about the making of the play of ‘Peter Pan.’ There are a lot of theatrical types in the show itself, which allows for a kind  of theatricality in the acting.”

Those who saw the show on Broadway during its 17-month run in 2015-16 will notice some changes in the touring production. The first 20 minutes include two new songs and other alterations from the original version.

“The thing is about a new musical. I heard a director say once you never finish a new show, you open a new show,” Hewitt said. “There’s always so much work to do that eventually you just have to stop doing it and let the people come in. With the tour, they took the opportunity to look at the show one more time.

“The Broadway show was very good. They could very easily have mounted what was on Broadway … It’s just a little more streamlined. You get to the family faster, you get to the little boys sooner, which I think is a good thing, but I have no objectivity since I’m in the new version. It’s difficult for me to step out and say how it changes the show.”

Hewitt might not have objectivity, but he has plenty of experience. Born in Montana, Hewitt said he was an introvert growing up who might not have found his love of theater in a more urban and more competitive setting. But there were a couple of good summer theater programs in Montana, and his parents encouraged him to pursue theater in college.

Since making his Broadway debut in the play “The Sisters Rosensweig” in 1994, Hewitt has played Scar in “The Lion King,” Pontius Pilate in the 2012 revival of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Frank ‘N’ Furter in the 2000 revival of “The Rocky Horror Show” (which earned him a Tony nomination for Best Actor in a Musical) and the title character in “Dracula, the Musical.”

There’s also a decent chance that if you’ve seen “Chicago” on Broadway since 2008 that Hewitt was the one razzle dazzling as lawyer Billy Flynn. He’s had more than a half-dozen stints in the Broadway company and played the role in Tokyo.

“The concept of the show really allows for people to come and go,” he said. “The concept of the show allows for many different personalities and makes it logistically easy to pop in a star every now and then. I’m really grateful for that job. There must be a list of 10, 15 Billys who are ready at any time.”

Hewitt had the good fortune to star in two Broadway musicals last year, “Doctor Zhivago” and “Amazing Grace.” Unfortunately, “Zhivago” closed three weeks after opening and “Grace” lasted barely three months. He had appeared in a pre-Broadway production of “Amazing Grace” in Chicago and was offered the lead on Broadway the day after “Zhivago” closed.

“It’s sad when they close, but I had a stroke of good luck there.”

Hewitt said he focuses on the the show itself and doesn’t ponder its commercial prospects.

“I really love being in the process of a new show, being in the room with these incredibly talented people,” he said. “It’s so thrilling to watch these different disciplines of theater come together and put together a new show. To me that’s always thrilling and great. Whether people like it is really none of my business.”

Being a part of the “Finding Neverland” tour has provided that same thrill.

“The magic of this show is very simple and very human and really what separates the theater from other art forms,” Hewitt said. “The special effect are really beautiful but really simple. There’s one at the end that I’m not going to give away that’s one of the most beautiful special effects I’ve ever seen in a show ever. It’s just the poetry of theater. It’s beautiful to look at and very moving.”

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