Childlike wonder and joy

PSU grad returns to area for performance

Courtesy photo The Company of “Finding Neverland” gather during a scene from the play that will be performed Jan. 23 at the Eisenhower Auditorium.

“Finding Neverland,” the Broadway musical on tour across North America, comes to the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State for a performance at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23, in Eisenhower Auditorium, and brings Centre County native Brian Victor back to the area.

Based on the Academy Award-winning Miramax motion picture by David Magee and the play “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allan Knee, “Finding Neverland” follows the relationship between playwright J. M. Barrie and the family that inspired “Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up” described by CPA as “one of the most beloved stories of all time,” in a news release.

“Finding Neverland” is packed with mesmerizing visuals, irresistible songs and plenty of laughs. It’s a timeless story about the power of imagination and spectacular proof that you never really have to grow up.”

The magic of Barrie’s classic tale springs spectacularly to life in this heartwarming theatrical event which NPR called ‘far and away the best musical of the year!’

Boalsburg native Victor, 38, now lives in the Astoria area of New York City and looks forward to playing again in Eisenhower Auditorium. A Penn State music graduate, Victor said, “I am really looking forward to it. I played Eisenhower so much during college that it is so great to come back to a theater that has been so much a part of my life.”

He’s hoping to reconnect with people in his past.

“My parents will be there and I’m sure there will be other people I’ve known. I tend to play better when there is someone I know in the audience who is listening to me.”

Well known in music circles themselves, his parents Richard and Louise Victor attended “Neverland” when it played in Hershey earlier on the tour, which runs until June.

“My dad is a well-known name in State College as he was the band director at State College Area High School for 37 years,” Victor said during a phone interview between performances. His mother taught high school choir and orchestra in Bellefonte.

Neverland’s female lead Ruby Gibbs, who plays Sylvia, said of Victor, “He is wonderful and a genious as he plays a million different instruments. Brian and the entire orchestra travel with us and the entire cast and crew is close.”

While “a million instruments” is a bit of exageration, Victor does play multiple instruments and in Neverland plays keyboard, guitar and mandolin.

“My undergraduate work was in clarinet and I made an active choice to switch to piano because I liked it so much,” Victor said. “I consider piano to be my primary instrument these days.

Victor previously toured with “The Producers” in 2008 and “Beauty and the Beast” for two years starting in 2010. Between then and now he pursued his other career in computer software development.

“I value variety in my life to an extent,” he said. “The fields are more similar than not. In both art and science there are subjective aspects. What makes ‘good’ music is different to each person. Certain people like what they like and that is what makes music effective — it isn’t the same person to person, but there is a core element. In science, the software needs to work and so does the music. You have to hit the right notes at the right time.”

Victor works remotely for a Virginia software company and expressed appreciation for the company’s flexibility so he can pursue his musical endeavors.

Both Victor and Gibbs cited the last 10 minutes of the first act of Neverland as their favorite part — but for different reasons.

Victor said he enjoys playing keyboard on the musical pieces “Circus of Your Mind,” that then flows into “Hook” and “Stronger.”

For Gibbs, as the only cast member not on stage, it’s an opportunity to admire her friends.

“It’s the act 1 finale number,” Gibbs said. “It’s amazing to see my castmates in that number.”

Neverland’s challenging 10-month road tour can be tiring Victor and Gibbs said, but both said they enjoy the travel and performing.

“I took a break for seven years,” Victor said, “but I love being able to play for substantial audiences every day. Just being on buses and in hotels with such talented and driven people is really a pleasure.”

“You see the enthusiasm of kids in the show,” he said. “I look at Peter Pan differently, with fresh eyes. I really get the magic of it what Barrie was going for … This is a great story for kids and adults.”

Gibbs said, “We want the audience to leave feeling that you never have to lose sense of childlike wonder and joy. It’s about children and adults who may have lost their ability to get in touch with beauty in the world around them. Instead, we hope they choose imagination through which to see world; from a point of positivity and a reminder of the magic in the world.”

Diane Paulus’ “Finding Neverland,” with direction recreated by tour director Mia Walker and associate choreographer Camden Loeser, features a book by Olivier Award nominee James Graham, music and lyrics by Gary Barlow and Grammy Award winner Eliot Kennedy, and original choreography by Emmy Award winner Mia Michaels.

The production includes scenic design by Tony Award winner Scott Pask, lighting design by Tony winner Kenneth Posner, costume design by Suttirat Larlarb, projection design by Jon Driscoll, music supervision by Fred Lassen, musical direction by Patrick Hoagland, illusions by Paul Kieve, air sculpture by Daniel Wortzel, animal direction and training by William Berloni of William Berloni Theatrical Animals, casting by Stewart/Whitley. The musical is produced by NETworks Presentations.

Staff writer Patt Keith is at