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Review: ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’ is a raucous (intentional) disaster

In theater, catastrophes are usually reserved for dramatic works. But in Broadway's "Peter Pan Goes Wrong," calamity drives farce forward.

Henry Shields as Chris, Ellie Morris as Lucy, Henry Lewis as Robert, Charlie Russell as Sandra, Jonathan Sayer as Dennis, Neil Patrick Harris as Francis and Matthew Cavendish as Max in "Peter Pan Goes Wrong" on Broadway (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

In theater, catastrophes are usually reserved for dramatic works. But in Broadway’s “Peter Pan Goes Wrong,” calamity drives farce forward. British co-conspirators Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields of Mischief theater company apply their signature “Goes Wrong” stylings — last seen on Broadway in the pseudo-murder mystery “The Play That Goes Wrong” — to J.M. Barrie’s beloved childhood tale “Peter Pan.” Under Adam Meggido’s explosive direction, the result is a sometimes repetitive but always relentlessly funny production that stresses the exacting choreography of great comedy.

In keeping with several other productions on Broadway this season, like “& Juliet” and “A Doll’s House,” the bit begins before the show does. Cast members of “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” act as cast and crew members of the Cornley University Drama Society, a poorly-managed theater troupe preparing for its opening night of “Peter Pan.” After enlisting the audience to help with electrical rigging, Cornley’s stage manager Trevor (Chris Leask) brusquely enters the Ethel Barrymore’s stage with a beer bottle in hand, a loud cell phone in his pocket and a promise to his lover at home to take lots of pictures. Then he runs down the list of pre-show reminders: no glass, phones or photography. Trevor’s precursory misconduct makes way for Chris (Henry Shields) and Robert (Henry Lewis) — the Society’s co-directors and lead actors in the fake “Peter Pan” staging — to emerge and introduce what the group has worked so hard on. With a generous cash donation from Society member Max’s (Matthew Cavendish) uncle, the hope is that all goes better in “Peter Pan” than it did in the Christmas production of “Jack and the Bean” — when there was not enough budget for the stalk. If the immediate pyro-technic flash erupting onstage is any indication, however, all will not.

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