Originally from Liverpool, English actor Chris Lanceley said he grew up watching American television shows such as “Frasier” and “Friends.” It was the latter that inspired him to move to America, but it was a British comedy, “The Play That Goes Wrong,” that is giving him the opportunity to travel across his adopted country and see more of it than most Americans probably have or will ever. Lanceley and his castmates are on a national tour of the Tony Award-winning, hit play coming to Clowes Memorial Hall, where it will be presented by Broadway in Indianapolis on Tuesday, February 25 through March 1.
Co-written by Mischief Theatre members Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields, the Broadway production premiered at Lyceum Theatre in 2017. Later, it moved to Off-Broadway, where it continues to play today at New World Stages – Stage 4. Called “The funniest play Broadway has ever seen!” by the Huffington Post, “The Play That Goes Wrong” is a comedy spoof about theatre. It centers on the Cornley University Drama Society that’s attempting to stage a 1920s’ murder mystery. Based on the play’s title, one can assume that everything that can go wrong does.
I spoke by phone with Lanceley, who was calling from his hotel room in College Station, Texas. The next stop of the tour was Huntsville, Alabama, followed by the Indianapolis run. Lanceley plays Chris Bean in the play within a play, whose character is Inspector Carter. Bean lists himself in the program as the show’s director, set designer, costume designer, prop maker, box-office manager, press person, dramaturg, voice coach, dialect coach and fight choreographer. “He’s a megalomaniac, who has his hand in everything and his finger in every pie,” said Lancely, who relishes the role that has taken him all over the country since the tour began in September. Prior to going on the road, he was in the Off-Broadway production, joining in 2018.
Lanceley’s journey as a professional actor began when he auditioned in England for the prestigious American Academy of Dramatic Arts. After being accepted, he moved to New York in 2008, where he has lived off and on ever since. In the ensuing years, he has done voice-over work, commercials, another Off-Broadway play called “The Bad & the Better” and was in TV shows. Based in Queens when he is on tour, Lanceley lives with his fiancée, who also attended the AADA and whom he met in his agent’s office.
“One of the things I love about the show is that is it completely apolitical and two hours of laughter and an escape from the world we live in, which is so divisive,” said Lanceley. He also spoke about the show’s universality, saying, “There is a real appeal to watching somebody, against all odds, accomplish something. You see how it affects the characters. The way these people carry on and how these people beat the odds to get to the end of the show. There is a great humanity in these characters.”
Lanceley and the cast will have performed 460 shows before the tour ends on May 18. He said he has especially enjoyed “average Americans” along the way. “Living in New York, you become insular, so everywhere we have been, people have been lovely. It’s been a real treat meeting people at the stage door, or downtown, or stores or at a bar. Everyone has been great to talk to. People are just people and everyone wants what is best.”
Regarding the show’s cast and crew, Lanceley said, “I feel very fortunate to have a good group of people to work with. The crew is lovely. The company management team works hard for us. We all get along very well and have a lot of fun together. The fact that we are doing a comedy every night keeps us in good spirits.”
Admitting there is a downside to touring, which he said includes “being in hotel rooms constantly, moving around, living out of a suitcase,” it nevertheless agrees with him. “I enjoy it a lot. Being in different towns brings a lot to it. In Memphis, I visited a fantastic civil rights museum. I listened to music on Beale Street, and saw the bizarre duck family at the Peabody Hotel. While in Memphis, he lived in an Airbnb, explaining, “Occasionally, I need an apartment with a proper kitchen. It’s a grass-is-always-greener thing. During a two-week break, I was longing for the tour, but before that, I was longing for home. It depends on where I am. It’s a dream come true for me, especially touring a country that I now call home and doing a Broadway show every single night. It’s why I moved to this country. It was one of my goals when I decided to be an actor here,” emphasized Lanceley, who will soon live out another part of his dream. He is applying to become an American citizen, while maintaining his citizenship in England.
Concluding my conversation with the engaging actor, I asked him what audiences can expect upon seeing “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Lanceley replied, “You can expect two hours of non- stop laughter. Every single age group, from 8 to 98, will love it. If you have seen Monty Python or if you have seen Sherlock Holmes, those two things are mashed together. A murder-mystery, Agatha-Christie-style show, a lot of word play and silly situations. If you are a musical fan, which a lot of our audiences are, being used to a season of musicals, the show plays like a musical, lots of choreography involved to keep the actors safe. Of all the plays I have ever seen, this is the closest to a musical, the way it plays out.”
Tickets for “The Play That Goes Wrong” are on sale now and available in-person at Clowes Memorial box office, online at ticketmaster.com or by phone at 1-800-982-2787.