All’s right in the world when Peter Pan Goes Wrong.
The latest impeccable demonstration of disaster-farce concocted and performed by Britain’s gift-to-the-world Mischief Theatre, Peter Pan Goes Wrong currently guest stars Neil Patrick Harris, who fits in so well with the ensemble that he seems like just another one of the gang. That’s high praise for both.
Opening tonight at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Peter Pan Goes Wrong proves that Mischief’s immensely popular The Play That Goes Wrong – which opened on Broadway in 2017 and remains in New York at the New World Stages Off Broadway – was no fluke. Indeed, Mischief seems to have accomplished on the stage what many a film studio has done on the screen: built a franchise.
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Like The Play That Goes Wrong, PPGW uses a play-within-a-play structure as both loving tribute to theater and knowing satire on the narcissism and fearlessness required to make it.
This time around, the (fictional) Cornley Youth Theatre, an amateur (adult) troupe with more gumption than talent, is staging a (very) low-budget production of the J.M. Barrie classic Peter Pan.
As the real-world audience files into the Barrymore, stagehands – or, spoiler alert if you need one, the Peter Pan Goes Wrong cast portraying stagehands – snake scary looking electric cords from the stage, where lights need lighting, over the audience and to electrical outlets somewhere near the lobby.
Soon enough we learn that Cornley’s most recent production – a revival of Oliver – met with a gruesome fate (a large man, a small child, a stumble, a car blocking the way of an ambulance, and, well, you get the picture). Peter Pan will be Cornley’s shot at a comeback.
Anyone who saw Play That Goes Wrong knows what’s next: Sets malfunction, actors trip (and worse) and injuries seem only a door-slam or collapsed bunk bed away. Add the flying that makes Peter Pan soar and you’ve got a recipe for high-wire disaster and big laughs.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong adds a second (or is a third?) layer to the frenzied antics by giving storylines to various members of the Cornley players: The actor playing Peter is having an affair with the actor playing Wendy who barely notices the lovestruck actor playing the Crocodile.
These plotlines play out more fully in the second act, a smart bit of dramaturgy – that word itself becomes a terrific punchline – on Mischief’s part: the mishaps and malfunctions that draw gasps pre-intermission can seem a bit repetitious as Peter Pan Goes Wrong goes on.
Co-written by Mischief company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, Peter Pan Goes Wrong features, in various roles, Matthew Cavendish, Bianca Horn, Harry Kershaw, Chris Leask, Henry Lewis, Ellie Morris, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill and Nancy Zamit.
In his roles as Narrator and an oft-confused pirate, Harris proves yet again that he ranks among Broadway’s most astute comic performers, gifted at character study, loose-limbed slapstick and expertly timed pratfalls. (Harris will be with the show through April 30; other special guests are expected to periodically take the role thereafter.)
Other stand-outs in the excellent cast include Cavendish as the irrepressibly enthusiastic young actor-crocodile; Shields, as the tyrannical director/Capt. Hook; Zamit, whose quick-change routines from one character to another are practically special effects in themselves; and Lewis as a gruff co-director forced to endure the indignity of playing the family dog.
Playing out on Simon Scullion’s ingenious, deceptively ramshackle set (Roberto Surace designed the clever costumes), Peter Pan Goes Wrong is directed by Adam Meggido with the vitally important precision, abundant good humor and no end of mischief.
Title: Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Venue: Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre
Director: Adam Meggido
Cast: Matthew Cavendish, Bianca Horn, Harry Kershaw, Chris Leask, Henry Lewis, Ellie Morris, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill, Nancy Zamit
Running time: 2 hr 5 min (including intermission)
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