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'The Play That Goes Wrong' to play at ASU Gammage on March 19—24

"The Play That Goes Wrong" national tour. Photo by Jeremy Daniel

March 14, 2019

Editor's note: A longer version of this article was published in Volume 21 of ASU Gammage's Inner Circle magazine.

If ever there was truth in advertising, it’s the hit British comedy “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!” he said.

McCollum (“Rent,” “Avenue Q”) has teamed up with famed writer/producer J.J. Abrams (“Star Wars,” “Star Trek,” “Lost”) to present this international sensation 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,” Abrams says. “The way it was put together. The rhythm of it. The cleverness. The brilliance of the performers.” 

The show — which runs at ASU Gammage in Tempe from March 19-24 — 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 film to Mr. Bean, they drew upon their own theater disaster stories to craft a script filled with outrageous slapstick calamities, says Sayer.

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 hourlong 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,” says Shields.  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 U.K. Sayer remembers the producers saying, “Well look, you've got half of the show. Now you need a second act.”  

So 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,” says Sayer. Shields adds, “We got pretty much everything that we asked for.”  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, says Shields, We get a laugh at least every six or seven seconds, I believe.” 

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 runningThe 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,” says Abrams. “I think one of the reasons that people are laughing as hard as they are at this show is not just that it is so funny, but that people are so desperate to have a good time. 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.” 

Don't miss "The Play That Goes Wrong" at ASU Gammage from March 19-24. Tickets are still available here

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