Broadway Peter Pan Goes Wrong Flies in the Rightest of Ways

Henry Shields (Chris), Ellie Morris (Lucy), Henry Lewis (Robert), Charlie Russell (Sandra), Jonathan Sayer (Dennis), Neil Patrick Harris (Francis), and Matthew Cavendish (Max) in Broadway’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

The Broadway Theatre Review: Peter Pan Goes Wrong

By Ross

It’s a big leap of faith to imagine that the Mishief that made The Play That Goes Wrong so right, could manage once again, but with Broadway’s new loopy fantastic play-within-a-play, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, we see quite clearly that the wrong did triumph once again after all. Playing loving tribute to, well, basically its own model and English farce at its best, Britain’s Mischief Theatre flies through the air without the greatest of ease, but that’s where the fun and hilarity are all found and hooked in. It’s almost maddening in its delicious, ridiculous fearlessness, redoing the formula and making it basically better than its predecessor. And that’s quite high sailing praise.

Conceived in its own image, Peter Pan Goes Wrong, currently being undone so brilliantly at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway revels in its mischief and mayhem, finding ways upon ways to make us smile and laugh in abundance, even when the formula is so obvious and in your face. This fabled amateur theatre company that goes by the (fictional) name of Cornley Youth Theatre steps with (unfounded) confidence into a low-budget production of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale of Peter Pan, vowing to us all that it will fly as smoothly as can. But nothing ever seems to go as planned for this crew, and it seems pretty clear what we are in for even before the house lights dim.

Matthew Cavendish (Max, front) with (L-R) Harry Kershaw (Francis), Charlie Russell (Sandra), Greg Tannahill (Jonathan), Henry Shields (Chris), Jonathan Sayer (Dennis), and Henry Lewis (Robert) in Broadway’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

This farcical go-round, directed with a seemingly bottomless pit of wit and wronged ridiculousness by Adam Meggido (Showstopper! The Improvised Musical) and performed to perfection by a cast of disastrously talented pros, returns to its formula with an added punch that unfortunately I was not able to witness, as the night I saw this wildly funny play, guest star Neil Patrick Harris (Broadway’s Hedwig…) was out. No joke. I think it was even the only night he was out, but that absence didn’t hinder the hilarity of its collapse. Replaced by the miraculously funny Harry Kershaw (NT/Headlong’s This House) as the actor Louis who performs as the narrator, Peter Pan Goes Wrong doesn’t miss a beat, finding malfunctions and injuries with almost every entrance and flying exit. It’s frenzied frivolity of the highest level, forcing laughs out of each stumble and stuckness registering groans of delight from each disaster gone right. What makes this rambunctious gag go righter-than-ever is that the source material is just so strong and recognizable, connecting with us on a level that is impossibly smart and ferociously silly.

Each of the Cornley Youth Theatre actors, played by a Michief actor, portraying a character from Peter Pan (or a stagehand trying to repair and help out), elevates the chaotic moment with aplomb, finding a background story that connects us to them on such a human level that we can’t help but cheer wholeheartedly for the lovestruck Crocodile (Matthew Cavendish) or boo with abundance at the dreaded dreadful Captian Hook (Henry Shields). It is outstanding, really, how this crew of comedians coaxes and cons hilariously strong reactions from a very game audience, getting them onboard and ready to ride along on the fairy dust thrown high by a narrator who keeps getting thrown off his game and throne.

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

Co-written by Mischief company members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields, Peter Pan Goes Wrong features these three talented writers of The Comedy About a Bank Robbery and Magic Goes Wrong, alongside the illustriously talented, in various roles, Bianca Horn, Harry Kershaw, Chris Leask, Ellie Morris, Charlie Russell, Greg Tannahill, and Nancy Zamit, each one a gem to hold onto tight forever. Zamit (a co-founder of Mischief), in particular, astounds with quick-change routines that almost electrocute us with their brilliance, as well as Lewis (artistic director of Mischief) as the co-director (or is it the assistant director?) forever finding hilarity in his shadow pratfalls and his doggie stickiness in all doorways and exit plans.

Played out hilariously on a miraculously under-funded set, designed enthusiastically by Simon Scullion (West End’s Volcano; The Father), with impeccably malfunctioning costumes by Roberto Surace (Vaudeville’s Groan Ups), with deviously finicky lighting by Matt Haskins (Almeida’s The Clinic) and a sound sound design by Ella Wahlström (West End’s The Unfriend), this play that goes as wrong as the other play that went (and still) goes wrong at its off-Broadway New World Stages home is as funny as can be, elevating and flying itself through mishaps and malfunctions with a clumsy grace. It might feel obvious or expected, especially if you saw The Play That Goes Wrong, but know that it doesn’t spoil the lopsided ride in the least. You’ll be Hooked like you were before, leaving the Broadway house smiling, thinking happy thoughts, and flying as high as Peter Pan coaxes us to.

Henry Lewis (Robert), Neil Patrick Harris (Francis), and Henry Shields (Chris) in Broadway’s Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields and directed by Adam Meggido. Opening night: April 19, 2023, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.


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