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Broadway Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong

Flight of Fancy…And Hilarity

Nancy Zamit and Greg Tannahill

It is apparently silly season on Broadway, at least partially, and that is a good thing. There’s nothing like a couple of hours of escapism and a healthy dose of belly laughs to round out your theatrical diet. First, we had Shucked, which is the most ridiculously delightful musical in years.

Now, Peter Pan Goes Wrong has landed on Broadway—crash-landed, actually—and therein lies the fun. Everyone who has ever participated in theater from the rankest amateur to the most polished professional has stories of a performance where things seemed to go quite wrong, but somehow they muddled through to the curtain call. The Goes Wrong trope—first seen in The Play That Goes Wrong—imagines what would happen if all those little hitches happened on one night in one performance. Well, it does more than imagine; it puts it all out on the stage in a glorious mess that combines slapstick, comedy, and pretty near total wreckage. Theater critics like to write about “deconstruction” in the theater, though generally in academic terms. Here, it means the set literally falling apart in front of us.

The company.

The premise is that the Cornley Drama Society is finally getting its production of Peter Pan on its feet, but almost as soon as the lights come it, we learn how unreliable that footing is. It would be unfair to reveal all that goes awry, but you’re in for some quite remarkable surprises. It is only with an impressive amount of skill, physical prowess, and comedic timing that so many disasters could work so well. Of course, since it is Peter Pan, there is flying involved, and before the show starts, members of the cast are in the audience asking if anyone attending the show has any experience working a flying mechanism. So, you see where this is going. Gregg Tannahill as Peter spends much of his time in the air seemingly out of control. Nancy Zamit plays multiple roles—Mrs. Darling, a lost boy, Lisa the maid—and her challenges keeping up with the fast changes is hilarious. Matthew Cavendish brings boyish charm to Michael Darling and the crocodile who terrorizes Captain Hook. Cavendish was in the original The Play That Goes Wrong, and has a way with endearingly impish comedy. And speaking of the nefarious captain, Henry Shields is delightfully curmudgeonly…and adept at hook jokes. Shields also plays Chris, one of the directors of the ill-fated company, so the overlapping characters create a great deal of the comedy as the show—like the manic turntable in the center—spins out of control. It’s also fitting that the stagehands get a curtain call; the level of seemingly uncontrolled mania is not easy to pull of with no one getting hurt (except in an obviously fake manner).

Fun as all this is, however, if you’ve seen The Play That Goes Wrong, this piece is more of the same, and even at a fast-paced two hours, the bits start to seem repetitive and go on a little long. The “backstage stories” of the actors and their relationships are a little labored as is an ongoing joke about sound cues. Nonetheless, there are enough subtle, comic gems to keep you laughing all the way through. Ultimately, this is very much the spirit of a British pantomime with silliness, satire, and slapstick jumbled together to create a festive diversion

Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street
Tues, Thurs, Sun 7 p.m.; Weds, Sat Sun 2 p.m.
Tickets from $84 at Telecharge
2 hours, 5 mins, 1 intermission

Production photos by Jeremy Daniel
Published, April 24, 2023