|PETER PAN GOES WRONG|
If you go into “Peter Pan Goes Wrong,” without any foreknowledge of the show, you might expect that it tells what would happen if J.M. Barrie’s ageless boy ended up accidentally on the third star to the right. Wrong. If you have a more prurient mind, you might expect that Peter gets caught up in some sort of a sex scandal. And to be honest, you’d be a little bit right.
But if you know that the play, which has now landed for a limited run at the Barrymore Theatre, comes from England’s aptly named Mischief Company --which is still delighting Off-Broadway audiences with the long-running “The Play That Goes Wrong” – then you will expect two hours of uproarious slapstick-based company. Absolutely right! Welcome to the funniest show in town!
Still, I doubt that you can fully predict just how much your cheeks, mouth and stomach will hurt from the non-stop laughter caused by this brilliant group of actors, flawlessly directed by Alex Meggido, all enacting a thoroughly ingenious script by company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields.
This time around, the fictional, completely inept Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society has unwisely decided to stage a slightly elaborate version of “Peter Pan.” There’s no question trouble will ensue – over and over and over -- however it’s best not to try to guess specifically how the design elements will malfunction (the fabulous set is by Simon Scullion) or which actors will get hurt, either physically and emotionally, during the show. Indeed, the element of surprise is one of the play’s biggest assets, so it’s best to sit back and just go along for the deliciously unsteady ride.
To single out any member of this peerless ensemble is difficult, but kudos go to the three creators: Shields, who is frustration personified as Captain Hook, Mr. Darling and especially Chris, the show-within-the-show’s pretentious director; the incredibly game, over-sized Lewis, who is willing to dress up as Nana the dog, wear a skin-tight costume as Peter’s shadow, and endure other indignities (as actor and assistant director Robert); and the priceless Sayer, who as the “world’s worst actor” Dennis, painfully repeats absolutely everything he hears through the headset that he needs solely to repeat his lines.
Special applause should also be given to Nancy Zamit, whose quick changes while playing Mrs. Darling and housekeeper Liza in the same sequence are absolutely breathtaking (and who later appears as a rather unusual Tinker Bell); the ultra-adorable Matthew Cavendish, who gains our sympathy as the under-appreciated Max (who has only been cast because his uncle has helped fund the show); and the excellent Chris Leask as the continually exasperated if none-too-bright stage manager Trevor, whose world is literally turned upside-down.
And then there’s the presence of mega-star Neil Patrick Harris (who is appearing in most performances through May 7), who is temporarily playing the show’s narrator, as well as Cecco, one of Hook’s henchmen. Like his castmates, Harris proves to be a brilliant physical and verbal comedian (and completely unafraid of embarrassment). In addition, the production takes advantage of Harris’ widely known skill as a magician, especially for one very silly segment involving a member of the audience.
In case you’re wondering, this is definitely family-friendly fare; children will be delighted by the often-juvenile on-stage goings-on! (Just be prepared that some of the cast shed some of their clothes, and there’s a teeny-tiny bit of simulated sex.) And for a change, the young ones’ enthusiasm actually adds to the joyousness of the experience.
Still, the show is best appreciated by adults – especially theater aficionados -- who will be greatly entertained by how the script cleverly but unapologetically exposes the egotism, narcissism and sheer stupidity of the fictional actors in the production -- some of whom forget to turn off microphones, insult the audience (even the kids!) and refuse to take responsibility for their own ineptitude.
Right now, Broadway doesn’t lack for shows that provide audiences a chance to forget their troubles. Still, “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” will make you forget anything except what’s on stage! Better yet, there’s little chance of tears – crocodile or otherwise – unless laughing really does make you cry!
By Brian Scott Lipton
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Ryan Vincent Anderson, Stephen James Anthony, Matt Cavendish, Fred Gray, Neil Patrick Harris* (thru May 7), Bianca Horn, Harry Kershaw, Chris Leask, Henry Lewis, Ellie Morris, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Brenann Stacker, Greg Tannahill, Nancy Zamit
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