Peter Pan Goes Wrong – Unabashed Fun
Before we’re welcomed by its principals to the latest production of The Cornley Youth Theater, technicians and cast anxiously attempt last minute fixes. On the Darling family bedroom set, Robert tries in vain to get sconces lit, hooks up wires that fizzle, makes theater lights flicker and eventually blows a fuse. At a loss, he rolls in a large wheel of cable which, unspooled, is passed by audience hand over hand from the stage to the rear of the theater where there’s ostensibly another outlet. Dennis retrieves cable and cow-tows to instructions from Trevor who also barks at backstage tech and poor, browbeaten Gill. We all look under our seats for a missing hammer. Music indicating high adventure adds to cheerful chaos.
Nancy Zamit (Tinkerbell), Greg Tannahill (Peter Pan)
Those of you who saw 2017’s Murder at Haversham Manor (The Play That Went Wrong) may think this will be old hat. (Directors of what was formerly The Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society apologize for that production.) Though the same ersatz-bumbling genre, Pan is fun because of familiarity with a source we know and love. Additionally, audiences are encouraged to respond. “Boos,” sympathetic “aws,” even a called out offer of help emerge. The undoubtedly black and blue cast is so game and gleeful, “accidents” so cleverly staged, one can’t help but have a rollicking good time.
Stage right, Francis slides on seated. When not battling the mechanically challenged chair with Chaplinesque determination, he reads narration from an oversized storybook. Wendy, Michael and John Darling are being put to bed by their parents and nursemaid, the dog Nana (Robert in a wonderful costume). Wendy, oddly the only one not dressed for sleep, accompanies her lines with gestures like a drunk Isadora Duncan. Michael is enthusiastic and sweetly shy. John is so helpless remembering lines, he wears large, old fashioned headphones with antennae into which dialogue is piped. The actor parrots what he hears verbatim which includes stage directions and errant radio announcements including “Your Uber is here” and “Thank you for listening to WQXR.”
Nancy Zamit (Tinkerbell), Matthew Cavendish (Michael), Jonathan Sayer (John), Charlie Russell (Wendy), Bianca Horn (lost boy), Ellie Morris (Lucy)
Despite talk of a nighttime visitor, Mr. Darling decides Nana should be tied in the yard. Robert’s natural girth gets wedged in a pet portal. The hapless actor has to be sawed out forcing Mrs. Darling to belt her lullaby over the sound of power tools. Peter Pan somersaults in, ripping off half the window, careening into walls. He retrieves his shadow played by Robert in a black unitard. (The two couldn’t have more different bodies.)
Wendy descends from a three tier bunk to help Peter. Two tiers collapse trapping her brothers. Extricated, the children are instructed to think happy thoughts. Cue Trevor and Gill who hook each actor into dual flying cables which summarily yank up removing clothes, exposing knickers. Undaunted, they “fly.” Peter crashes into Big Ben.
Ellie Morris (Lucy), Jonathan Sayer (John), Charlie Russell (Wendy), Henry Shields (Hook), Henry Lewis (Starkey), Matthew Cavendish (Michael)
Precisely timed disasters, a hallmark of this company, follow a long tradition of physical comedy based farce. None of it would work, however, without wonderful facial expression, infectious good humor, and credible off-stage relationships to which we’re privy. Max (Michael), hired only because his uncle backed the show, pines for Sandra (Wendy) who, in turn, is having an affair with Jonathan (Peter Pan). Robert’s niece Lucy (Toodles) has such stage fright, she can hardly get words out. Literally pushed into speaking, she ends up crushed by a fallen tree, the first of several causalities. Unwittingly left on in the sound booth, a microphone (too frequently) reveals embarrassing information.
The cast is marvelous. Henry Lewis (writer, Nana, Peter’s shadow, the pirate Starkey) expressively employs his size for consternation comedy. Jonathan Sayer (writer, John Darling, Smee) delivers credibly obtuse recitations and ineptitude of the classically stupid pirate. Henry Shields, who reminds one of John Cleese (writer, Mr. Darling, Captain Hook), executes several nifty pratfalls and, as the story’s villain, manipulates audience with skill and charm.
Harry Kershaw (Cecco), Charlie Russell (Wendy), Greg Tannahill (Peter Pan), Henry Shields (Hook), Jonathan Sayer (Smee), Henry Lewis (Starkey), foreground, Matthew Cavendish (the crocodile)
Nancy Zamit is a constant delight as Mrs. Darling, the maid Lisa, pirate Curly, and silent, shimmying, wide-eyed Tinkerbell. Playing Michael and the crocodile (on wheels) Matthew Cavendish creates an appealing, empathetic hero. Standing in for Neil Patrick Harris, Harry Kershaw creates engaging portrayals of the obstinate storyteller and absent-minded pirate Cecco, who inevitably finds what’s required too late.
Director Adam Meggido helms bedlam with a sure hand losing neither on or off stage plots nor distinctive characters, creating an embodiment of esprit du corps.
Inspired work by Simon Scullion (set) and Roberto Surace (costumes) create an illusion of community theater while maintaining vivid imagination and visual treats. Matthew Haskins’ lighting and Ella Wahlstrom’s sound enrich.
NOTE: Be sure to read Cornley Youth Theatre material in the middle of the Playbill, especially the crocodile Memoriam.
Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Harry Kershaw (Cecco), Chris Leask (Trevor), Henry Shields (Hook), Nancy Zamit (Tinkerbell), Greg Tannahell (Peter Pan), Henry Lewis (Starkey), Jonathan Sayer (John) background Charlie Russell (Wendy)
A Mischief Production of
Peter Pan Goes Wrong
Based on the play Peter Pan by JM Barrie
By Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields
Directed by Adam Meggido
Ethel Barrymore Theatre
243 West 47th Street