The Never Ending Battle: Critics vs Audiences

Finding Neverland, a new show based on the popular movie, has just opened on Broadway and been critically panned by reviewers. Yet the show has managed to bank $10 million in advance ticket sales. What could be causing this difference of opinion?


At the centre of many critical reviews has been the show’s musical choices. Written by Eliot Kennedy and Take That’s Gary Barlow, the score tends to skew more towards the pop genre rather than the traditional Broadway writing style. The New York Post commented ‘Every song . . vaguely reminds you of some recording you have heard in the background of your life’. The Wall Street Journal mused ‘The Gary Barlow-Eliot Kennedy score is an endless string of skim-milk, pop-rock anthems’. And The Hollywood Reporter believes that the composers ‘raided the Hallmark shelves’.

While the sentiment of these comments are intended in a negative manner, they actually emphasis everything that is right about the musical’s songs!

Disney and jukebox musicals have a knack for bringing hoards of people into the theatre. Aladdin is still selling at 100% capacity over a year into its run. Beautiful has become a crowd favourite with productions slated for all over the world. Mamma Mia has been unstoppable for thirteen years. And nothing can get between The Lion King and the Disney audience.

These are not surprise hits. They all involve songs which have been heard in the background of our lives. Stories which resonate strongly with audience members. And three of those examples all feature movies which furthered their reach in the community. Their great advantage is that they are inherently linked to our lives.

While the reviewers seem to have an issue with these relatable and accessible qualities, these are the qualities which will endear a piece of entertainment with audiences. It becomes meaningful because we can relate with the songs (even if we have never heard them before). We are not pushed out of our comfort zones with the content because we have already seen it in another format. And they will inspire memories from our past which are linked in with these familiar sounding songs making the content more relatable.

Any successful marketing strategy takes advantage of these two qualities; relatable and accessible, and this show has them in-built in the product. If the audience are already listening to similar songs then they are probably tapping into the popular trends. Darren Criss, from Glee fame and soon to take over the title role in Hedwig and the Angry Inch, articulated this at the opening night festivities: ‘It’s important to keep an ear out for what the population is listening to, and to ignore that appetite would be really selling yourself short of making this art form accessible.’

Keep your products accessible and audiences will be able to get the most out of them. That is what has led to the $10 million word of mouth that Finding Neverland has achieved!

Stay tuned. Finding Neverland has another accessible strategy launching on April 21st.