As with its Tony-winning predecessor The Play That Goes Wrong (still playing an open-ended Off-Broadway transfer at New World Stages), Mischief’s latest Broadway offering, Peter Pan Goes Wrong – co-written by company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, nominated for London’s prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Comedy in 2015, and at long last here in NYC for a limited engagement at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre – has all of the team’s signature elements of a metatheatrical play-within-a-play format, over-the-top physical comedy, hilarious dialogue, parodic pages in the Playbill program, and audience interaction that begins even before curtain time, so be sure to arrive early and get to your seat asap to enjoy every moment of the wacky escapist fun and non-stop laughs. You’ll be glad that you did!
The sidesplitting spoof sees the Cornley Youth Theatre persevering through its calamitous presentation of Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie’s eponymous 1904 children’s classic, despite electrical shorts, sparks, and blackouts; misplaced props, ill-sized doors, and falling equipment and set pieces; forgotten lines, incomprehensible dialects, malfunctioning sound feeds, and visible cue cards; flying accidents and costume mishaps caused by faulty rigging and quick changes; cast injuries, stage fright, and internal competition for the lead, directorial credits, and in-company romance; a revolving stage that won’t stop rotating; a tech crew that repeatedly comes on stage mid-performance to repair the damage; and anything else you never would have thought of but Mischief did, and executed to perfection with its spot-on cast of eleven, most playing multiple roles with uproarious panache, dogged determination, and “the show must go on” commitment, no matter how crazy and challenging it gets.
With beer bottle and cell phone in hand, Chris Leask as Trevor, the stagehand, opens the show, followed by Shields and Lewis as director and assistant director Chris and Robert, each delivering the funniest of all possible curtain speeches. And it’s nothing but zany pandemonium for the remainder of the fast-paced accident-ridden performance, directed with high energy and impeccable precision by Adam Meggido. From the Darling children’s triple-bunk bedroom in Bloomsbury with their parents, dog, and maid, to the arrival of Tinker Bell, Peter Pan, and his shadow, to their high-flying (and crashing!) adventures in Neverland with the Lost Boys and battles with pirates led by the villainous Captain Hook – also played by Shields, whom we are encouraged to boo whenever he appears (the audience at the performance I attended did so with relish, to which he replied with a riotous Broadway-referencing comment about Sweeney Todd) – there isn’t a moment when the superb cast (Matthew Cavendish, Bianca Horn, Harry Kershaw, Ellie Morris, Charlie Russell, Greg Tannahill, and Nancy Zamit, along with Leask, Lewis, Shields, and Sayer,) doesn’t deliver the quirky characters, laugh-out-loud comedy, and Vaudevillian-style slapstick, or keep us howling.
They are joined, through May 7, by Tony- and Emmy-winning special guest star Neil Patrick Harris, appearing as the glitter-tossing Narrator (and other Pan characters), who, like his castmates, gets tossed around, whacked, and partially disrobed in the Cornley’s chaotic performance. He also fills in a delay in the play during a faux medical emergency, breaking the fourth wall with a magical feat of mind-reading involving a randomly selected member of the audience and providing one of the most unexpectedly witty segments of the consistently hysterical show. To avoid any spoilers, I will only say that you should experience it in person, to get the full effect of the all the madcap surprises and elaborate staging.
With the focus on physical comedy and feigned theatrical disasters, the design plays an integral part in the production, and it is brought to fruition by a stellar team of artists. The lighting by Matthew Haskins and set by Simon Scullion believably malfunction and deconstruct, enhanced by Ella Wahlström’s crackling and crashing sound, which also figures prominently in the running gag of the unintentional audio live feed heard clearly by the actors and the audience. Costumes by Roberto Surace, with wig, hair, and make-up by Tommy Kurzman, capture the basic look of the period and the well-known characters, as recreated by the amateur Cornley company, as does the original music by Richard Baker and Rob Falconer, with song and dance routines performed by the highly entertaining cast.
If you enjoy pure unbridled fun, with no agenda other than to make people laugh and to appreciate the extraordinary talent and control required to make things go absolutely haywire, do not miss Peter Pan Goes Wrong – it would be so wrong.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, including an intermission.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong plays through Sunday, July 23, 2023, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street, NYC. For tickets (priced at $84-278, plus fees), call (212) 239-6200, or go online. Masks are no longer required but are recommended.