Being bad takes a lot of talent and practice – at least when you’re trying to create a knockabout farce about a play gone horribly wrong. It’s an alchemy of turning ensemble choreography and apparent chaos into crowd-pleasing broad comedy.
You may think I’m referring to “Noises Off,” Michael Frayn’s frequently revived farce about a third-rate English acting troupe putting on a third-rate sex romp, which is full of physical activity that must be staged with the precision of ballet. Or, perhaps “The Play That Goes Wrong,” which observes a clueless amateur production of a melodramatic 1920s murder mystery, which premiered on Broadway in 2017 and subsequently transferred Off-Broadway (where it is still running today).
A sequel to “The Play That Goes Wrong” has arrived in the form of “Peter Pan Goes Wrong,” an endlessly funny and inventive imaging of a hopefully misguided production of “Peter Pan” that is plagued by endless mishaps, mistakes, and injuries. It arrives on Broadway with much of its original English cast plus Neil Patrick Harris, who serves as a special guest star through April 30.
Not only is “Peter Pan Goes Wrong” just as good as (and perhaps even better than) “The Play Goes Wrong,” the fact that it is based on “Peter Pan” makes it appealing to both children and adults, including my six-year-old son, who roared with laughter from start to finish – and even before the start of the show thanks to preshow activity in which the cast members roam the aisles busily putting stuff together.
The relentlessness of the comedy routines brings to mind the 1980 parody film “Airplane!,” full of nonstop physical slapstick and running gags, which here takes the form of crashing into set pieces, misplaced sound effects, forgotten lines, electrical outages, loss of consciousness, and out-of-control special effects. (A 2016 TV adaptation of the show is available for viewing on multiple streaming services.)
It’s hard to pick and choose, but memorable bits include the revolving set spinning out of control, a romantic rivalry over Wendy between Peter and the Crocodile, a car honking sound effect that repeatedly goes off, a bunk bed falling apart and trapping John and Michael underneath it, and a randomly inserted Disney-style production number.
The principal performers have individual personality but come together to form a tight ensemble well-disciplined in the art of being hilariously bad. For his part, Harris tosses pixie dust, recites narration, make a cameo as a pirate, and at one point attempts a magic trick with an audience volunteer. (At my performance, the audience volunteer happened to be my son, who made a smashing Broadway debut that will surely go into the history books.)
Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St., pangoeswrongbway.com. Through July 9.