Review: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG – Holiday Entertainment That Gets It Right!

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG at New World Stages
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Murphy’s Law states, “If anything can go wrong, it will.” So when the Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society, well-known for their success with productions like Two Sisters and The Lion and the Wardrobe put on the 1920s whodunnit, The Murder at Haversham Manor, an avalanche of comedic disasters descend upon the cast, crew and presentation of their show in THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG, the Off-Broadway production of the international hit, co-written by Mischief Theatre company members Henry LewisJonathan Sayer and Henry Shield, now playing on the Tony Award winning set at New World Stages (340 West 50th Street). 

It all begins in the pre-show when the stage managers – actors in the Cornley University Drama Society – desperately try, against all odds, to ready the set for the show. But set pieces have minds of their own, and we quickly see just what is in store when the mantlepiece continues to fall over the fireplace, the door won’t open, and an audience member is engaged to help hold up the pieces that won’t stay in place. This wonderful participant was even given the task to sweep the stage, only to be greeted to a big audience response when the broom handle swiftly detached from the base. All of this the prelude to the fabulous slapstick about to take place.

Someone has murdered Charles Haversham, and the play within the play is to find out who. But we never get too far. The “amateur” actors, played by a fantastically funny, agile and highly professional cast, so badly want to tell their story and do their play. Only one moment after another is fraught with all that befalls this company. It is visually hysterical and timed to perfection with continuous laughter at props falling from the walls, floors collapsing, doors sticking, “dead” actors coming back to life in order to get offstage, actors breaking the fourth wall to wink with the audience, actors being hidden sideways in grandfather clocks, scripts scattering with pages all over the stage floor, telephone calls taking on a life of their own, cues missed, actresses replaced…. And the physical comedy played to perfection!

This riotous comedy about the theatre played its final Broadway performance on Sunday, January 6, 2019, making it the 2nd longest running show in the history of the Lyceum Theatre (after the original Born Yesterday in 1947). The current cast of THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG features Adam Petherbridge as Max, Julian Robertson as Trevor, Chris Lanceley as Robert, Trevor Braun as Dennis, Matt Harrington as Chris, Latrisha Talley as Annie, Chris French as Jonathan, and Maggie Weston as Sandra. The cast also includes Damien Brett, Ellie MacPersonLaura D’Andre and Sid Solomon. The Playbill is cleverly constructed to have a Bio page of each character of the Cornley University Drama Society, alongside the character they are playing in the The Murder at Haversham Manor. There is even an ad for the “Robert Groove School for Acting Perfectly” and “A Letter From the President,” in this case that is “Chris Bean” who played Inspector Carter and bills himself as Writer, Producer, Director, Designer, Costume Designer, Prop Maker, Box Office Manger, Press & PR, Dramaturgy, Voice Coach, Dialect Coach, Fight Choreographer, and Rehearsal Role of “Mr. Fitzroy,” that is an inside joke I will not spoil. The real-life actor, who played Chris playing the Inspector, was Matt Harrington (recently seen in Leopoldstadt) and my favorite.

The show is sheer delight and fun at any time of the year, but especially great for the holiday season. The audience was filled with families and kids and non-stop laughter. And if you like this, you are sure to love Mischief’s new comedy MIND MANGLER: A Night of Tragic Illusion, written and performed by the same team behind THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG with performances Off-Broadway at New World Stages for a limited engagement now through March 3, 2024.

For more information and tickets: THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

For more information and tickets: MIND MANGLER: A Night of Tragic Illusion

Photos by: SIMON TURTLE, JEREMY DANIEL and MATTHEW MURPHY

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