By Naomi Serviss / New York City
Who doesn’t love a raucously fractured fairy tale? A mishmash of screwball slapstick, mishaps and mayhem traipsing merrily along the way?
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a Marx Brothers/ Three Stooges-like lovechild of the classic J.M. Barrie fable. You know, the story of the perennial narcissistic brat who refused to adult.
This production is a well-oiled, Rube Goldberg-inspired machine, guaranteed to distract you from obsessing over current events (for two hours).
Not only is it a tonic for Boomers, but it will also amuse Millennials, Gen Zers and even know-it-all
Gen Xers, who will crack a smile or even guffaw when Peter tries to maneuver his errant flying harness.
The curmudgeon in your life could bust a rib reacting to Tinkerbell’s sexy shenanigans. I gasped for air during a recent performance, because the laughs ricochet fast and furiously funny.
With Broadway’s spring season awash in self-important dramas and musical revivals ad nauseum, it’s refreshing to find a lighthearted gem that doesn’t require blood-letting or cannibalism for plot points.
Neil Patrick Harris guest-narrated the performance I caught. Harris delivered thumbs-up comic chops with an amateur magician’s flair. His generosity with shiny confetti he tossed out was appreciated in the expensive front seats. Harris adroitly held his own, pratfalling and taking a tumble with the best of them.
If you’re familiar with the long-running British production, The Play That Goes Wrong, you’ll recognize the hook. If you aren’t, not to worry. The premise is simple.
It’s essentially a show-within-a-show conceit dreamed up by the writing team (and performing crew), of Henry Shields, Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer.
A made-up amateur college drama club performs a serious play that implodes thanks to slippery scenery, missed sound cues and jammed doors. The jaw-dropping finale is worthy of a standing O.
It’s a farce as ancient as Roman times. And the formula works for a reason. The people like it! It’s fun, it’s not just for kids!
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a delicious soufflé that stands apart from its predecessor, Peter Pan, because we are all well-versed in the traditional tale.
It might seem to be a simple story of childhood innocence, coupled with a kid’s untamed imagination and resilience. But it’s also about the unwavering passage of time and the circle of life. Where existential threats live in a mermaid lagoon with doomsday clocks crocodile-consumed.
The Lion King isn’t the only show that cooks.
But Peter Pan Goes Wrong is a BIG BROADWAY PRODUCTION, with star cameos (like Harris) sure to pop up, stepping in as future story tellers down the pike.
There is an undependable, mind-of-its-own revolving stage, cheerful musical numbers, sibling revelry and blacklight puppets. The hooded puppet handlers are just as comically inept as their castmates, who get it wrong by painfully crashing into one another as they flit around the stage.
Characters deliver groaner jokes with clever repartee and goofy faces.
The three authors (drama schoolmates) have the juiciest roles. Henry Shields (recalling John Cleese) is Mr. Darling and Captain Hook. Henry Lewis is the sad-sack teddy bear who portrays Nana.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong (directed by Adam Meggido) may have recently opened, but it’s not a new show. It’s been in production since 2013. The Play that Goes Wrong brand has been incorporated into Mischief Worldwide. It’s a dream enterprise, guaranteed to woo tourists in the U.K. and stateside.
This production has no language barriers. The slapstick telegraphs upcoming disasters. Physical humor is understood without need of translation.
Expect amateur acting (on purpose), stubborn stagecraft, miscues and jokes that would slay a vaudeville audience. The narrator’s chair has a mind of its own. Sometimes it takes its occupant slooooowwwwly stage left or jerks him into desired position. Looked painful. It cracked me up.
At its best, the show reminded me of the stellar 1982 Brit backstage farce, Noises Off by playwright Michael Frayn, with its precision take off and dizzying landing. Speaking of landing, Greg Tannhill plays Peter Pan mostly in bandages or flying about upside down.
Onstage, the low-budget nursery of the Darlings has a dicey-looking three-level(!)bunk bed, wiring that sparks and a revolving floor that causes significant crashes. Keep your eyes on the beds.
You’ll be relieved when Captain Cook gets his comeuppance, the Darling family is joyously reunited and Tinkerbell is…no spoiler alerts!
You might be exhausted merely observing this hilarious tale unfold. My face hurt from laughing so hard for two hours.
It was worth it.
If you’re in town, stop by the TKTS booth at West 47th & Broadway for discounted tickets!
You won’t go wrong.
Naomi Serviss is a New York-based award-winning journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Newsday, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Highroads (AAA magazine), in-flight publications, spa and travel magazines and websites, including BroadwayWorld.com