BILLY HARRIGAN TIGHE COMES SOARING BACK HOME IN ‘FINDING NEVERLAND,’ PLAYING THE SCRIBE WHO DREAMED UP PETER PAN.
“Finding Neverland” runs May 16-21 at the Fox Theatre. Details, tickets HERE.
IN 1897, Scottish novelist and playwright James Matthew Barrie was living in London, near Kensington Gardens. There he befriended a neighbor family, the Llewelyn Davies, who had three young sons, George, John and, in a baby carriage, Peter.
The brothers’ games inspired Barrie. They, in turn, loved his lively tales and his tricks — wiggling his ears and eyebrows, for example. In some of his stories, Barrie said baby brother Peter could fly and that all babies had once been birds.
By the time the family added two more sons, Barrie’s Peter stories had taken wing. He wrote and premiered the 1904 play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, in a large and celebrated production with pirates and Indians.
In 1911, he turned his play into the novel Peter and Wendy. Even then, no one could have predicted how far Peter Pan would travel during the next 100 years.
Countless adaptations and reimaginings have been created, from Paramount Pictures’ 1924 silent film and Disney’s animated 1953 version, to the 1954 Broadway musical with Mary Martin (which became a popular NBC telecast). The Broadway show was revived in 1979 with Sandy Duncan, then again in 1990 for onetime Olympic gymnast Cathy Rigby. Then came two movies — Steven Spielberg’s Hook (1991) and Finding Neverland (2004) — and Broadway’s Peter and the Starcatcher (2009), adapted from the novel that gives Peter Pan a backstory.
So what’s it like to play the man who started all this mischief?
“I feel a lot of responsibility,” says Billy Harrigan Tighe, the Atlanta native who portrays Barrie in this national tour. (Director Diane Paulus and choreographer Mia Michaels have reportedly fine-tuned the Broadway version’s production numbers for this tour.)
Like the movie on which it’s based, Finding Neverland zeroes in on Barrie, his friendship with the Llewelyn Davies, and the period leading to the playwright’s success with Peter Pan.
“Most of all, I just want to make sure I’m giving the audience the same sort of values that Barrie instilled in his own piece,” says Tighe, 31.
“I feel that I embody a lot of the same things J.M. Barrie did, especially from the perspective of being an artist who feels most at home inside his own psyche and imagination. Sometimes I’ve felt like a youth trapped in an adult body, and I’ve come to think that he probably felt that way.”
Playing the scribe helps him stay in touch with his youthful zest for life and imagination, says Tighe, whose parents, Bill and Mary Ellen, live in Marietta. He’s named for his dad but has always gone by “Billy.”
“I am absolutely a Billy,” he says. “I will never be a Bill. There’s a lot of J.M. Barrie in me because I refuse to grow up.”
Tighe is over the moon about finally performing beneath the stars at the Fox Theatre, which he frequented while growing up. This is the sixth national tour for Tighe, a 2003 graduate of Pebblebrook High, Cobb County’s performing arts magnet. None of the others brought him home.
He “owes everything” to Pebblebrook, he says. “It’s where I discovered my passion and learned what I needed to do to achieve my goals. The discipline and everything else I learned is still the foundation for all that I use now on a daily basis.”
He played Zebulon in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in his first Pebblebrook show. His professional resume includes the title role in Broadway’s Pippin revival; Elder Price in The Book of Mormon on tour and in London; and Fiyero in Wicked, also on tour.
The touring life is OK, he says, except for the distance it puts between Tighe and wife Kristine Reese, also a performer (Broadway’s Mamma Mia!).
Touring is doable because they don’t have children yet, he says. For now, romping onstage with talented kids who help “unlock my imagination every night” is enough.
He’d “be happy doing any show, anywhere, any time,” he says. “If the big ones stopped calling, I would be doing a show in my garage.”