Theater Review: PETER PAN GOES WRONG (Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles)

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by William C. on August 14, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles,Tours


Having brought the house down with The Play that Goes Wrong, Mischief Theatre Company has followed up with a delicious offering: Peter Pan Goes Wrong. Written by Henry LewisJonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, the play introduces the fictional Cornley Youth Theater to theatergoers and their catastrophic attempt to stage a production of the 1904 J. M. Barrie play, Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. As the title here more than suggests, it is mayhem on stage, filled with failures from machines, actors, and stagehands. This well-crafted disaster play crash-landed on The Ahmanson stage last Friday as the first stop of its national tour since ending its limited engagement on Broadway.

Charlie Russell, Greg Tannahill, Henry Lewis, Henry Shields,
Bartley Booz, and Nancy Zamit

This play is very British at its core. Having premiered at Pleasance Theatre in 2013 and the following year on London’s West End, it took 9 years before Peter Pan Goes Wrong debuted across the Pond. The mixture of corniness and old-time slapstick humor makes the play feel just a little out of date, but in an endearing way, something British storytellers do especially well. Most importantly, the audience was just eating it up, as there is just something about the combination of physical comedy and the British accent that tickles our funny bones here in the States. This is a lovely, nostalgic piece of theater that strews glitter and sexual innuendos across the stage with players jabbing at each other and us.

Henry Lewis, Harry Kershaw, Henry Shields, and Bartley Booz

Beyond nostalgia and the accent, Peter Pan Goes Wrong is just plain good theater, especially given the ensemble’s comedy chops. As assistant director Robert and the beloved family dog Nana, co-playwright Henry Lewis has the audience eating out of the pads of his paws when he is physically stuck in various compromised positions. The very handsome Chris Leask has some of the most memorable moments as the annoyed stage hand Trevor, who — filling in for an injured Peter Pan — dangles upside down and burns out due to electrical shock.

Harry Kershaw as The Narrator (also played by Bradley Whitford
and Daniel Dae Kim during the run in L.A.)

Joining the run through August 27 is West Wing‘s Bradley Whitford, who wholeheartedly embraces his role as the disgruntled narrator, one who suffers the same theatrical malfunctions as the rest of the cast while trying his best to maintain his three-time Emmy Award-worthy reputation. Whitford literally brings out one of his Emmys on stage. Cheeky! (Lost‘s Daniel Dae Kim plays the narrator August 30–September 10, 2023.) Henry Shields finds a humorous contrast between his portrayals of Mr. Darling, Captain Hook, and the president/director of the fictitious society. Constantly breaking the fourth wall, Shields is in his element, getting the audience to cheer and jeer as he declares his displeasure at being underappreciated for his work.

Nancy Zamit

Nancy Zamit is the darling of the production. In addition to playing Mrs. Darling and the housekeeper, she also plays the funniest plus-sized Tinkerbell on record. As a player, Zamit’s utter failure to create magic is magical.

Nancy Zamit and Greg Tannahill

The audience barely has a moment to catch its collective breath between laughs. Unsurprisingly, the ensemble has incredible comedic timing in this one-two punch action-packed physical theater. Overall every little bit is exploited to the maximum — the jokes themselves go on a journey. For example, the wrong audio cue playback during the show is devastatingly funny at first, but then the gimmick is reused repeatedly, by which time it becomes old and trite. Finally, somehow, it becomes funny again.

Which really sums up my experience watching this play.

Matthew Cavendish (front) with (L-R) Harry Kershaw, Charlie Russell,
Greg Tannahill, Henry Shields, Bartley Booz, and Henry Lewis

Peter Pan Goes Wrong is indeed quite funny at first. Then, a kind of tedium sets in with the non-stop jokes. And yet, when the show works up into a comical frenzy, you can’t help but laugh once more. That the show works so well is credit to the combination of Adam Meggido‘s precise staging and Simon Scullion‘s brilliant set design, which has an out-of-control turntable becoming a perfect metaphor for the disastrous finale — a nice bow to tie off this fantastic piece of theater.

Matthew Cavendish, Bartley Booz, Ellie Morris, and Charlie Russell

Looking back, I am left feeling the warmth and generosity of this hilarious offering. The creators unabashedly coax roaring laughter from patrons, and if that is not an act of love I do not know what love is. Milking (and I do mean milking) tears of guffaws from jaded theatergoers is a public service for which viewers should be grateful.

Matthew Cavendish, Nancy Zamit, Bartley Booz,
Bianca Horn, Charlie Russell, and Ellie Morris

I may not be able to sit through it a second time, but this work should be seen by all at least once. Need a good laugh and a moment of respite from the world? Come watch these poor community theater players put on a production that never-never lands. Because, after all, we can all soar if we think happy thoughts. Except Peter Pan, that is. Ouch, it was a rough night for him.

Greg Tannahill, Charlie Russell, Matthew Cavendish, and Bartley Booz

photos by Jeremy Daniel

Ellie Morris, Chris Leask, and Bianca Horn

Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Music Center’s Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave. in L.A.
Tues-Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 1 and 6:30
ends on September 10, 2023
for tickets, call 213.972.4400 or visit CTG

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