Theatre Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Broadway) ★★★★

Following a UK tour, runs on London’s West End—resulting in an Olivier nomination for Best New Comedy—a BBC television adaptation, and last year’s North American premiere in Edmonton, Canada, Mischief theatre company’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong is now taking perilous flight on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre.

Ellie Morris (Lucy), Jonathan Sayer (Dennis), Charlie Russell (Sandra), Henry Shields (Chris), Henry Lewis (Robert), and Matthew Cavendish (Max). The Broadway cast of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Having thoroughly, and hilariously, butchered the 1920s style murder mystery The Murder at Haversham Manner in the Olivier and Tony-winning The Play That Goes Wrong—currently bringing down the house (literally) Off-Broadway at New World Stages—the enthusiastic amateurs of the fictional Cornley Drama Society, undeterred, have boldly decided to tackle J.M. Barrie’s classic tale and take us to Neverland. With high-wire stunts, actors taking on multiple roles, a revolving set, a crocodile on a skateboard, and off-stage romantic entanglements encroaching on stage, what could possibly go wrong? Yes, you’ve guessed it…everything.

(L-R) Harry Kershaw (Francis), Chris Leask (Trevor), Henry Shields (Chris), Nancy Zamit (Annie), and Greg Tannahill (Jonathan) Back: (L-R) Charlie Russell (Sandra) and Henry Lewis (Robert). The Broadway cast of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

One of the exciting aspects of live theatre is that unexpected things can and do happen. Some of the most memorable moments I’ve had in a theatre have been when a line has been missed or flubbed, a costume has torn, a prop has been misplaced, or an actor has stumbled. There’s a palpable awkwardness in the air and even the briefest of unintentional pauses in the action can feel colossal, but there’s also an accompanying thrill in the reminder that anything might occur. Along with the hope of seeing great stories and performances, it’s that exhilaration of watching something live that keeps us coming back.

Nancy Zamit (Annie) and Greg Tannahill (Jonathan). The Broadway cast of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The comic geniuses at Mischief have expertly tapped into this with their productions, creating shows that brilliantly encapsulate the magic of theatre, its boundless potential to create worlds and for everything to come crashing back down to Earth in an instant when things don’t go according to plan. Though in this case of course, the chaos is ingeniously created and deftly controlled. I particularly enjoyed hearing the comments and laughter of the kids sitting near me and love the thought that for some of the younger audience members this play might be their very first taste of theatre, because it’s the kind of fun, transporting work that’s likely to make them lifetime fans of the medium.

Nancy Zamit (Annie, center) with the Broadway cast of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Despite all the mishaps and interruptions, impressively, the show somehow manages not just to be relentlessly funny—and frequently hysterical—but also to convey the timeless joy of Peter Pan, and it even gets in most of the plot! I won’t spoil anything by getting too specific, but when things do go wrong it often feels genuinely dangerous, with the cast really selling every pratfall, bang on the head, and run in with the set (brilliantly designed by Simon Scullion). It’s slapstick at its finest, with multiple layers of comedy. Co-written by Mischief’s Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, the script continually surprises and builds beautiful as the onstage diasters become ever more extreme, while director Adam Meggido keeps things tight and precise, and the energy building to a sidesplittingly funny crescendo.

(L-R) Henry Shields (Chris), Ellie Morris (Lucy), Henry Lewis (Robert), Charlie Russell (Sandra), Jonathan Sayer (Dennis), Neil Patrick Harris (Francis), and Matthew Cavendish (Max). The Broadway cast of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

It’s an utter delight to watch this skillful company, made up of original Mischief members, play off each other. The entire cast is terrific, with standout turns from Nancy Zamit, dazzling with her quick-changes and fabulous character work as Mrs Darling, a glittering Tinkerbell, and giving Kathy Burke vibes as the housekeeper; while there’s a captivating John Cleese energy to Henry Shields’ Captain Hook (especially when he’s reprimanding the audience for booing him); and an adorable quality to Matthew Cavendish’s much maligned Max, whose wealthy uncle has funded Cornley’s Broadway adventure.

Neil Patrick Harris (Francis). The Broadway cast of Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Alongside the Mischief company, is Tony-winning guest star Neil Patrick Harris (only until April 30th), as Cornley Drama Society member Francis who takes on the dual roles of narrator and one of Captain Hook’s pirates. He’s fantastic in both, making the physical comedy look like a breeze. The other stars of Peter Pan Goes Wrong are the stage technicians who make all the accidents run smoothly from off stage, and it was wonderful to see them take a much-deserved bow alongside the cast at the curtain call.

Although it might hit some of the same notes as The Play That Goes Wrong (if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it), Peter Pan Goes Wrong is nevertheless thrillingly unpredictable. It’s a blissful night of pure escapism, sprinkled in fairy dust, that keeps you riveted and completely in the moment. With some jaw-dropping staging, it’s a hugely entertaining, delightfully ridiculous, not-to-be-missed theatrical event.

By James Kleinmann

Peter Pan Goes Wrong officially opened on Wednesday, April 19th at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 West 47th Street) on Broadway and has now been extended through July 23rd, 2023. Neil Patrick Harris joins the cast April 11th – 30th (excluding Friday April 21st at 8pm).

Peter Pan Goes Wrong on Broadway.

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