Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Review: Hilarious “The Play That Goes Wrong” Opens with George Stephanopolous in Surprise Role

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First off: “The Play that Goes Wrong” goes very right and went very well tonight opening at the Lyceum Theater on Broadway. Hilarious? Oh, yes. A wonderful farce full of non stop laughs, very funny and smart with an Olivier-winning cast from the West End made of, as they say, No One Famous. More on that in a minute.

Lots of celebs tonight at the premiere as J.J. Abrams, taking a break from filming “Star Wars” in London, caught the show, went backstage, and offered to bring it to New York. So there’s ABCNews’s George Stephanopolous and wife Alexandra Wentworth and their kids, seated up front.

The conceit of the show from the start is that this small time Cornley University Drama Society in England is putting on a play called “The Murder at Haversham Manor” with no resources.  Everything about their production is in peril from before it starts. The entire set — a drawing room in the manor– is falling apart. and the “stage manger” enlists an audience member up front to help her hold a few things up. Stephanopolous was drafted from the audience to help out even though the cast didn’t know who he was. “Our kids were going crazy,” Wentworth told me at the intermission. George did an excellent job.

The other celebs in the house: Sutton Foster, Jesse Eissenerg, Rami Malek from Mr. Robot sitting across the aisle from Tony winner Ramin Karimloo (about to open in “Anastasia”), Michele Lee, Victor Garber, Public Theater impresario Oskar Eustus, the great Brian D’Arcy James, Zachary Quinto, and Stephen Colbert.  Not bad, huh?

“The Play that Goes Wrong” is so good that Cindy Adams, who never stays through a whole, made it to the end. She loved it.

The comedy follows the lineage of Moliere and plays like “Noises Off” and even “Frasier” in its slapstick moments. In recent years there have been additions to the ouevre, like James Corden in “One Man, Two Guvnors” and “The Play What I Wrote” (which Mike Nichols produced and Kenneth Branagh directed back in 2003 also at the Lyceum). This year we’ve already had “Oh Hello, On Broadway,” Nick Kroll and John Mulvaney’s hysterical night of shenanigans and malaprops.

But to pull this off you have to be great, and you can see that this troupe–which wrote the show for themselves– has honed it into a gem. You see, they’re playing actors who are playing characters in the “Manor” play. Kudos especially to Henry Lewis, Dave Hearn and Charlie Russell but you don’t want to single anyone out. Director Mark Bell makes it look easy when of course it’s not– indeed, the physicality that’s called on is quite amazing. You’d almost think you’re in a murder mystery performed by Cirque du Soleil!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedmanhttps://www.showbiz411.com
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.
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