“Finding Neverland”: A look into Peter Pan’s Beginnings

Ixchel Cuellar stars in the Peter Pan origin tale, “Finding Neverland”. Photo Credit: Broadway San Jose

Performer Ixchel Cuellar breaks down the ins and outs of the boy with the green cap and her path to the stage

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

Ixchel Cuellar is a San Francisco native who is currently touring with the national Broadway production of “Finding Neverland”. The story involves the background and creation of the fabled “boy who wouldn’t grow up”, most famous for his depiction in the 1953 Disney animated film.

The San Jose leg of the tour will be taking place at the Center for the Performing Arts from April 17–22, 2018.

We had an opportunity to talk to Cuellar about her background in the arts, her favorite things about “Finding Neverland”, and why she believes it’s always important to see in yourself your worth.

Hello Ixchel, to start off could you tell me a little bit about your beginnings, and what got you interested in the performing arts?

I was originally born in San Francisco. My dad is a musician, [from] Dr. Loco’s Rockin’ Jalapeno Band, it’s a Latin band, so I always grew up around music. I would always go up on stage with my dad and dance with him so then that kind of showed that I had this dance bug. So, my parents put me in classes and I started dancing at a pretty young age and dabbled around and then I started doing musical theater. I went to San Francisco School of the Arts for high school dance and did musical theater on the side. Then I decided to keep going so I went to Penn State School for Musical Theater and studied there for 4 years. At the end of my senior year, I got “Finding Neverland” on Broadway. So, I did that for some months as a swing. Now I’m touring with “Finding Neverland” on the road.

So, I found out that while at Penn State you started the Broadway show, before you even finished school. How was that?

I finished school a little early. I went to a couple random auditions during spring break and I got a call from casting saying they were going to bring me in. I got a call on a Friday night to be there on Sunday in New York for a costume fitting, [with] rehearsal Tuesday so I could make my debut on Friday. It was crazy. I packed all my stuff up at school, got on a bus and came to New York, very cliché, but it happened.

So, it was like a montage?

Yeah for sure.

So, at school what type of work were you doing? I read that you worked with puppets in “Avenue Q” towards the end of your tenure. How was that?

Yeah! I did a lot of stuff. I did “Avenue Q”, “110 In the Shade”, I did a lot of different kinds of things, which was good, they pushed me out of my comfort zone. I always associated myself as a dancer, so it was good that they made me do other things that didn’t involve dancing, and I feel like it really helped me grow as an artist, and a human.

Out of all those things you participated in besides dancing, which one was your most challenging, or the one that was most rewarding to learn or experience?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned in this journey is to trust that you are enough, because there’s so many people telling you that you’re not enough. We spend all day every day in front of a Panel of humans telling us whether we’re right or not right for something, and you have to believe that you are enough and capable to do the job because at the end of the day it’s a job, it’s a career and we all are so talented and I want everyone to believe that we are enough.

Ixchel, could you give me your take on what the premise of “Finding Neverland” is about?

It’s a story about how Peter Pan came into fruition. So, we all know the story of Peter Pan but it’s about J.M. Barrie, the author, and how he became inspired to write this story. He is feeling writer’s block and meets this family of four boys and a mom who live their life to the fullest, but there’s one kid who doesn’t believe in being a kid because he has dealt with the death of his father, and if everyone’s going to grow up anyway, why should you live life in color? And J.M. Barrie essentially teaches this boy and his family how to be a kid, and he embraces being a kid and of course [Barrie] is inspired to write this story about never growing up, and to believe in anything you want to believe in.

What role(s) do you perform in the production?

I am part of the ensemble, so I do a lot of stuff. I’m a maid, an Indian, a London town person, an actor, but I understudied both Peter Pan and Wendy.  And actually in New York I swung, so I had to know all six of the female ensemble parts and I’ve actually gone up and have played all six of those parts.

Do you have a favorite character to play in this?

I think have a soft spot in my heart for the first one and the last one that I did. The first one was Ms. Bassett, because it was my Broadway debut and it was something that I kind of anticipated for so long, and then it happened so I have a soft spot in my heart for that, and then Peter Pan because it’s so special. It’s such a beautiful story and to get to dance like that it’s awesome.

Is there any part of it, whether behind the scenes, watching in the audience, or participating in that you really enjoy?

I think my favorite is the Act 1 finale called “Stronger”, it’s a big pirate number where he really gets inspired by Captain Hook and his pirates and it’s so fun because I get to be a pirate on a rat line hanging from ropes and everyone is on stage and it’s so, so, so fun.

Would you say that fans of Peter Pan and its lore would find similar tones in “Finding Neverland”, or a different type of experience?

It’s similar in tone in the sense that the whole story is about how [J.M.] came up with the idea, it’s creating a backstory of how he came up with it and it’s totally a family musical. There are elements that are just a little different than Peter Pan. I would say that if you love Peter Pan then I would highly recommend it because it shows how [he] came to be.

Okay here’s my last question. Thanks so much for your time Ixchel. When you guys come to the Bay Area, why would you recommend people come and see “Finding Neverland”?

Because it’s a story about family, love, and living the most out of taking advantage of your life and living in full color rather than in black and white. It’s a show about growing up and finding peace in all parts of life, which is living or in the afterlife, and trusting that love will carry you through.

For more information about “Finding Neverland” please visit broadwaysanjose.com.

Arts & CultureFeatured