Hollywood Harvey on Great Britishness!
Harvey Weinstein is an imposing man.
The 60-year-old native New Yorker is a multi-millionnaire, an award-winning producer, co-founder of Miramax Films and co-chairman of The Weinstein Company. In addition to his Academy Award win for producing Shakespeare in Love, he’s also collected a host of Tony Awards for producing musicals including Billy Elliott and The Producers.
And he’s talking to me because he’s heading to ….. Leicester? Apart from his wife Georgina “knowing the city well and we have friends there”, he’s lead producer on the musical stage version of Finding Neverland, receiving its world premiere at the city’s Curve theatre next month.
The show features UK performers Julian Ovenden and Rosalie Craig and is directed by Rob Ashford, telling the story of how Barrie came to create the legendary story of Peter Pan, and is loosely based on the hit film of the same name.
And Harvey couldn’t be happier about it.
“A number of years ago I was in Richmond where we shot most of Finding Neverland with a brilliant cast of actors, and we were nominated for so many Academy Awards, and there was a moment where I knew I would love to turn it into a musical. But it needed to wait until we had time to develop it and somewhere to showcase it. Curve is the most exciting space to explore; this is a big show with big sets and big production numbers. Curve has the technical ability to make it work and Leicester audiences are smart. By the time it reaches the West End we’ll have spent close to £7million but you’ll be able to see that money in a big show. It’s not two people in a room, there’s a full orchestra, large cast, great sets, it will be as big as any Broadway show.
“It’s not the same as the film, the story is told differently, there’s more humour, there’s more interaction with the kids, there’s more of a love story between the two main characters, and without giving too much away there’s pirates coming out of the rafters and every other bit of the brilliant Curve space.”
So why premiere the show in the UK rather than the USA? “When I did the film with Johnny Depp, he pointed out that other films like Shakespeare in Love and The King’s Speech were shot in the UK but premiered in the US. He said that the notion of JM Barrie and Peter Pan belongs to England. We saw that with the Olympics opening ceremony –and our opening night of Finding Neverland in the West End will be in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital. We owe the people of England the chance to see it first. But it will play to the world – I want it out there in China, the USA, Australia – but Leicester gets the first opportunity.
“In the UK you are the greatest supporters of culture – look at the Olympics opening ceremony – Beijing was militaristic and had precision but you had quirkiness, the idiosyncratic and the universal, you had Simon Rattle being cross with Rowan Atkinson, you had the Queen with James Bond, you had Mary Poppins and Shakespeare, you had JK Rowling reading Peter Pan. Someone give Danny Boyle a Knighthood! My daughter Lily said it was interesting and historical but she never expected to laugh so much too.”
Danny Boyle may have got the Olympics, but it’s a celebrated stage craftsman who takes the helm of Finding Neverland. Director and choreographer Rob Ashford has won plaudits for his Broadway work on How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying as well as UK productions of Anna Christie (with Jude Law), A Streetcar Named Desire (with Rachel Weisz), Thoroughly Modern Millie, Evita and Guys & Dolls.
“I was very lucky to get Rob,” says Harvey. “He’s had huge success in England, he’s known in America as a man who makes musicals, he brought in Julian, we found Rosalie through the audition process, and he’ll create something magical so that people walk out feeling fabulous. They have great chemistry together and we’ve got that wonderful boy-girl story going on as well as it being a fantastic family show.
“Julian has an incredible voice and it must be tough being that good looking. Maybe the women of Leicester should join together to offer him some support for the incredibly tough situation of being so talented and so good-looking!”
* Finding Neverland opens at Curve on September 22 and runs until October 18. Details on 0116 242 3595 or www.curveonline.co.uk
To see the piece (as it appeared in the Leicester Mercury) go to the interview section CLICK HERE.