“Finding Neverland” gives you permission to revel in the joy and wonder of childhood, said East St. Louis native Crystal Kellogg, who plays playwright J.M. Barrie’s wife, Mary.
“There is a lot of magic. It’s filled with imagination,” Kellogg said during a phone interview from Chicago. “It says it’s OK to still be a kid at heart,” she said.
The musical opened Tuesday at the Fabulous Fox Theatre in St. Louis and runs through Dec. 18. The story is about Barrie’s relationship with the family that inspired him to write “Peter Pan, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” the timeless classic beloved worldwide.
It is based on the play, “The Man Who Was Peter Pan” by Allen Knee, the source material for the 2004 movie “Finding Neverland,” which starred Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet and was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture.
Watching the four Llewellyn Davis boys play make-believe in a park inspired the Scottish writer to present “Peter Pan” as a play in 1904 and a novel in 1911.
Kellogg appeared in the Broadway production in the understudy role and is happy to play Mary again on the first national tour.
“I’m excited to take it on the road and sink my teeth into the part,” she said.
Mary was more of a social climber than her husband, and the play shows their opposite natures and their divergent paths.
“She is described as a go-getter. She met him while acting in one of his plays. She wants to be part of the high society, to have the luxuries of life, and she wanted her husband to be a part of it, too,” she said.
In real life, the couple was married for 15 years, divorcing in 1909.
Kellogg appeared at the Fox before, in the first national tour of “Kinky Boots.”
“I love it there. It’s one of my favorite theaters in the country,” she said.
Kellogg is no stranger to our region. She was born in St. Louis and lived in East St. Louis until age 7, when her family moved to Iowa. Her mother, Susan Kellogg, taught English at a local high school.
“When I go back, it really does feel like home to me. Seeing the Arch, going to the Zoo, I get excited — it seems so familiar to me,” she said.
Music was always a part of her family.
“My parents did theater in high school and college as hobbies, and it trickled down to the kids,” said Crystal, who has three sisters and a brother.
“Music was always part of our lives. I remember seeing my two older sisters in ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and something clicked in my brain: ‘That is something you need to do.’ I was singing from the time I was in diapers,” she said.
From Iowa, her family moved to New Mexico, and she graduated from the University of New Mexico. After college she moved to New York City and has been there for 11 years.
“I had never been to New York before I moved there,” she said. “There is something about the electricity there, the hustle and bustle.”
She has appeared in regional theater, including two iconic roles at the Arrow Rock Lyceum in Arrow Rock, Mo., as Anna in “The King and I” and Nellie in “South Pacific.”
Her Broadway debut was in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “School of Rock” as understudy for Mrs. Hathaway.
“It was incredible in so many different ways. Such a good show. The kids are so incredibly talented in it,” she said.
Kellogg has high praise for the creative team behind “Finding Neverland,” including two-time Tony-winning director Diane Paulus (“Pippin,” “Hair”) and choreographer Mia Michaels, who is known for the TV show “So You Think You Can Dance.”
“They decided to update it for the national tour, and treated it like a new production,” she said. “They wrote a whole new song, and the touring show gets to the heart of the story a little bit quicker than the original,” she said.
The tour started in October. The music and lyrics are by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, and the book is by James Graham.
“The show has an emotional connection with people. It’s great for families, for date night — for anyone who wants to believe. Barrie sees things that others can’t, and it’s a fantastical world,” she said.
The touring show has a large cast of 25, and the fun they have on stage is real, she said.
When: Now through Dec. 18
Where: Fox Theatre, 527 N. Grand Blvd., St. Louis
Tickets: Metrotix, 314-534-1100 and www.fabulousfox.com