How Everything Went Right for Smash Broadway Comedy, ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

Hilarious Disasters Abound in Slapstick Broadway Comedy, ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

 

If ever there was truth in advertising, it’s the hit British comedy and Broadway smash, “The Play That Goes Wrong,” says producer Kevin McCollum. “I've got to tell you, it's been a pleasure having a show that I can market and it is exactly what it says it is,” McCollum says.

McCollum (“Rent,” “Avenue Q”) teamed up with famed writer-producer J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “Lost”) to present this international hit about a hilariously disastrous production of a murder mystery here in the United States. Abrams saw the show in London, when he took a day off from filming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” “I was amazed by the whole construction of it,” he says. “The way it was put together. The rhythm of it. The cleverness. The brilliance of the performers.”

 

Bringing British Comedy to the Stage

The show is the brainchild of three graduates of the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art; Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields and Henry Lewis. Fans of British comedy, from silent films to “Mr. Bean,” they drew upon their own theater-disaster stories to craft a script filled with outrageous, slapstick calamities, Sayer says.“There's always a little bit of some kind of experience we've had, that informs some of the moments,” he explains. “But, obviously we take it to a much, much more excruciating place.”

An hour-long version of “The Play That Goes Wrong” opened in 2012 at the Old Red Lion Pub in North London. “When we started, there was an audience of about four people,” Shields says.  But word of mouth propelled the show to the Trafalgar Studios in the West End, where the show acquired producers to take it on tour in the United Kingdom. “The producers said, ‘Well look, you've got half of the show,’” Sayer remembers. “Now you need a second act.”

 

A Hilariously Catastrophic Set

 As the three writer-actors worked on a second act, they teamed up with set designer Nigel Hook to come up with more catastrophic theatrical misfortunes. “We wrote down a list of big, visual effects that we'd love to have,” Sayer says. They got everything they asked for, Shields adds. Hook’s two-level set, which won a 2017 Tony Award, provides a cascading series of malfunctions, beginning with simple effects like doors sticking and pictures falling off the wall, to some truly spectacular, sidesplitting disasters. The result is, “We get a laugh at least every six or seven seconds,” Shields says. The new-and-improved version opened at the Duchess Theatre on the West End in 2014, where it captured the Olivier award for Best New Comedy and is still running.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is now the longest-running play on Broadway, and has been produced in cities across the globe. “Finding something that is such a pure, unadulterated, hysterically funny and bighearted piece of entertainment is no small thing,” Abrams says. “It’s not just about being distracted by the world, it’s about remembering that one of the great reasons we are alive is to come together and to laugh. And ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ does that.”

 

SEE THE SHOW

 “The Play That Goes Wrong” runs April 18 to 24 - click here for tickets!

 

 

 

 

 

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