Past Reviews

Broadway Reviews

Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - April 19, 2023

Peter Pan Goes Wrong by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields. Based on the play Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie. Directed by Adam Meggido. Scenic design by Simon Scullion. Costumes by Roberto Surace. Lighting design by Matthew Haskins. Sound design by Ella Wahlström. Original Music by Richard Baker and Rob Falconer. Wig and makeup design by Tommy Kurzman.
Cast: Chris Leask, Henry Shields, Henry Lewis, Matthew Cavendish, Neil Patrick Harris, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Nancy Zamit, Bianca Horn, Greg Tannahill, and Ellie Morris.
Theater:Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue)

Henry Lewis, Neil Patrick Harris, and Henry Shields
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
What tickles your funny bone? Is it an evening of witty repartee and bon mots being tossed about with debonair aplomb? A bit of Noël Coward, perhaps, or the carefully structured comedy stylings of a Feydeau farce? If so, it behooves you to back away from the ticket booth at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, currently the home of Peter Pan Goes Wrong, a hotbed of screwball nonsense that stands squarely on the shoulders of the folks who brought you the Broadway (and now Off-Broadway) slapstick romp, The Play That Goes Wrong.

Both The Play That Goes Wrong and Peter Pan Goes Wrong are products of London's Mischief Theatre Company and, as they used to say at Mad Magazine, "the usual gang of idiots," playwrights Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, a trio who never met a mishap or screw-up they didn't love on first sight. Know that if you saw the first one, you're in for a similar excursion as the fictive "Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society" returns with its latest production, a staging of J. M. Barrie's tale of pirates and fairies and the boy who refuses to grow up.

Like its predecessor, Peter Pan Goes Wrong combines the exaggerations of intentionally amateurish acting with a disastrously unstable set, designed for this production by Simon Scullion. Add the element of clumsily-worked rigging for the flying scenes, and you can guess the overall effect.

Nancy Zamit and Greg Tannahill
Photo by Jeremy Daniel
What you may not notice in the ensuing mayhem is that some of the "Cornley Drama Society" actors (and the cast members who played them) are back. They provide the production with its strongest moments. Sublimely ridiculous is Henry Shields as Chris, the "director," who also performs the role of Captain Hook and who gets into a delightfully confrontational mode with members of the audience as they boo his every appearance. Also back and in fine fettle is Jonathan Sayer as Dennis, an actor who is unable to memorize his speeches and so wears headphones and has his lines (mis)fed to him. A terrific Nancy Zamit as Annie has to juggle multiple roles and quick costume changes whose timing does not always work out. Most adept in the realm of pratfalls, Zamit does an especially delightful turn as Peter Pan's fairy companion Tinkerbell.

Joining the company until the end of April is Neil Patrick Harris, the popular performer who previously won a Tony for his lead performance in the 2014 Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Here he plays a pirate of the "aargh" variety and serves in a "good sport" capacity in the role of Francis, the narrator who manages to get tangled up in imaginative ways with his chair, entertains with a bit of intentionally underwhelming magic, and sprinkles the stage with sparkly "fairy dust" from time to time. If you are a fan, do check the schedule, because even during his short time with the show he will need to miss a couple of performances.

Putting on my curmudgeon's hat for just a moment, I did find the production to be sluggishly paced at times. Director Adam Meggido is best known for his work in improv theater, but while slapstick may look improvised, it does require precise timing in order to seem unpredictably spontaneous to an audience. Yet, especially in the overlong first act, the humor comes off as forced and repetitive, along with too much of J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan and not enough of the "Goes Wrong" part. The narrative also incorporates some backstage drama that bleeds into the silly stuff and threatens to sour the fun. That being said, however, if you are looking for a hefty serving of daft goofiness, or if you loved The Play That Goes Wrong and would relish more of the same, you will get what you are looking for in the second act when general pandemonium is the order of the day. That's when the fun really takes off and makes this a worthy entry into the "Goes Wrong" franchise.