The stage is a-swirl—with dervishing capes, sliding stairways, scores of actors and even Death Eaters—throughout the new, “now and forever” extravaganza at the exquisitely reconfigured Lyric Theatre. Harry Potter and… well, you don’t need the full title, do you? Which for the record is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but just say Harry Potter and everyone will know precisely what you mean. At least, everyone in the market for theater tickets in New York, London, Melbourne and wherever there is enough gold for this worthy enterprise to mine.
Harry Potter started life on U.K. bookshelves in 1997 as an unlikely page-turner by a single mother on the dole. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone it was called; stateside, it was redubbed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. It has sold gazillions of copies and was made into the chart-topping motion picture of 2001. There have been six sequel novels—from Chamber of Secrets to Deathly Hallows—each of which has been transformed into screen blockbusters. Rowling called it quits in 2007, figuring presumably that enough was enough and just how many adventures can you devise anyway?
But enough is sometimes not enough. After delving into video games, theme parks, spin-offs and other empire-building activities, the author was enticed by West End Wizard Sonia Friedman to bring Potter to the stage. Rowling joined with director John Tiffany (Black Watch, Once) and playwright Jack Thorne (who worked with Tiffany on the National Theatre of Scotland’s adaptation of the Swedish vampire novel Let the Right One In, which traveled to the Royal Court in London and St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn). They developed an eighth adventure for Harry and friends, the official billing informing us that it is “based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne.” It continues from where the epilogue of Deathly Hallows left off, with the 37-year-old Harry sending young Albus Potter off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And leaping lizards, does it crackle and snap and vibrate the senses; or, to coin a new phrase unless Rowling has already coined it, “leaping wizards!”
We have been entreated by management to “keep the secrets”—not only in official communications but in pin-back buttons distributed to theatergoers as they exit. So all we’ll say is that your favorites are there, I’d guess; and no matter what misadventures overtake them, most everyone more or less comes through smiling at curtain calls. Except the audience, which beams even more than Tiffany’s special effects.
And mind you, the show is all special effects. But while there is a good deal of machinery and a greater deal of millions behind it all, the specialest effect that shines through—and, truly, makes Cursed Child what it is—is high-grade theatrical imagination. We can easily list the admirable production staff: Christine Jones (sets), Katrina Lindsay (costumes), Neil Austin (lighting), Finn Ross and Ash Woodward (video), Gareth Fry (sound), Jamie Harrison (illusions and magic), Carole Hancock (hair, wigs and make-up) and Imogen Heap (composer and arranger). It is not quite so easy, though, to separate their accomplishments: everything blends in to create this wizardrous mélange. Prime among Tiffany’s team is “movement director” Steven Hoggett, of both Once and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Cursed Child is a true collaboration between Tiffany and Hoggett, and quite something to see.
There are actors galore, of course. Seven have traveled from the original London production (still at the Palace on Cambridge Circus, now and forever), including Olivier winners Jamie Parker (as Harry Potter), Noma Dumezweni (as Hermione Granger) and Anthony Boyle (as Scorpius Malfoy). I found Boyle especially refreshing, as a nerd who can’t quite tell whether he’s hero or villain, and was quite taken by Sam Clemmett as the young Potter. Of the American contingent, I was most surprised by that protean overactor Byron Jennings, thoroughly in his element as he channels John Carradine snorting through three roles; and enchanted by a sprightly newcomer named Lauren Nicole Cipoletti who emerges from an underground bathing fountain in a tiny role and has the makings of a fine comedian.
All your favorite Hogwartians are here, yes, as well as gaggles of magical wands, Gryffindor robes, Dumbledore tassel hats, et al. (These donned not by actors on stage but fans in the seats.) But while we’re glad to go along with the keep the secrets campaign, we approached Cursed Child in something of a conundrum. Seven novels, seven films and seven trillion merchandising items later, there are still a handful of Muggles in this galaxy who can say, to quote Mrs. Paroo of Music Man fame, “excuse me for livin’ but I never read it.” Yes, she was talking about Balzac, but Honoré was a piker—sales-wise—compared to J.K.
How is a Hogwarts neophyte likely to fare at the Lyric? Which, by the way, is the formerly impossible barn that under a variety of names housed Ragtime and Spider-Man, and which the Ambassador Theatre Group of London has magically transformed into an altogether grand showplace by—in part—removing seats, shrinking expanse, and tasteful refurnishing as a house fit for a wizard.
Quite well, thank you. At first one might feel a bit overly potted, if you will, as the other 1,621 patrons greet favorite characters by the dozens. You won’t recognize them, no; but you will immediately recognize supreme stagecraft. Midway through Part One you’ll likely be glad you’re there; and as Part Two starts, you’ll be thrilled, enthralled, and sitting raptly forward in your comfortably plush seats.
Yes, it’s two parts, six hours, and will cost you two theater tickets; but if you were to compare a day of Harry Potter with a joint visit to Frozen and Aladdin, say—well, there’s no comparison. And they might as well send out the 2018 Best Play Tony Award for engraving already.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened April 22, 2018, at the Lyric Theatre. Tickets and information: harrypottertheplay.com