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A CurtainUp Review
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
By Elyse Sommer
So did Rowling backtrack on that declaration a decade later when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was published? Not really. While the title was printed on a cover that looked like this might be Book #8, what was inside the covers was not a novel, but the script Rowling co-authored with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany slated to open in London's West End.
With its arrival in New York, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child broke Broadway box office records even before its now official opening. No magic know-how is needed to predict that the two part play (with a ticket required for each part) will be as much of a theatrical juggernaut as the Potter books and films have been. Thus, while the published script has been a moneymaker for Scholastic Books, it is now also part of the souvenir sales bonanza that includes magic wands, t-shirts, mugs and other Potter branded stuff.
The buzz surrounding the show has made it a draw not only for its built-in, critic proof fan base but for non-Potterites; in other words, anyone (like this writer) having only hearsay familiarity with the Hogwarts world depicted in the books as well as the films that made Daniel Radcliffe a star.
I'm happy to report that the buzz is not just a lot of hype. This is a hugely enjoyable show with a pretty easy to follow story that is cleverly tied in to the money hemorrhaging Potter franchise.
As the title implies, the play provides the same sort of intrigue that was part of Harry's growing into a super hero during his seven years at the Hogwarts school. But while Harry Potter and the Cursed Child does begin where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ended the play fast forwards 19 years past the end of the Deathly Hallows book. That means the boy wizard Harry is now 37-years old, working for the Ministry of Magic. And we find him and his wife Ginny at the King's Cross train station about to send their middle son Albus off to the Hogwarts School. With them are Hermione and Ron, another pair of Hogwartians whose daughter Rose is also headed for the school.
And so the schoolboy whose coming of age saga and gradually developed wizard skills we now follow is Albus who's not especially happy at the expectations for the son of the villainous Lord Valdomont's destroyer. Though the focus is now on Albus, Harry is still very much part of the story, since he too has unresolved issues that affect his relationship with Albus. Suffice it to say that the problematic father-son setup triggers plenty of Potteresque plot twists.
Naturally, the numerous references to characters and events from past books will delight the Potterites in the audience. On the other hand, newbies may have just as much fun experiencing this world and its characters for the first time and with little or no prior knowledge. That's why a program insert with a little black button suggests wait until the end of both parts to read the program's very helpful summaries of all the Potter books and the enlightening article about the psychological factors influencing both Harry and the evil Lord Voldemort, who misjudged Harry's ability to vanquish him.
And speaking of buttons, I'm honor bound by the button handed out at the end of each part "to keep the secrets." But writing this review is impossible without a few spoilers like telling you that a device called a Time-Turner makes it possible to have the plot jump back in time to events and characters from the novels — and, as importantly, allowing Director Tiffany, Movement Director Steven Hoggett and the designers to display their own wizardry for putting on a show that can take your breath away.
The work of Tiffany, Hoggett and the other company wizards is indeed the major reason Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is enthralling from the moment the curtain rises — even when, during the first part, the story is at times somewhat sluggish and not all that extraordinary.
Fortunately the magic dominates, starting with the opening scene when the people at the railroad station are transformed into a wizardly group in black capes. Hoggett's choreography sends swirling around the stage to create an aura of darkness and mystery.
The magic tricks don't make amazing and amazingly effective use of suitcases, fire places, spell casting wands and halloween lanterns. A pair of roll-on staircases create some especially memorable scenes.
The mood-setting magic on stage permeates the entire theater. It's been retooled to immerse the audience in the Harry Potter world by set designer Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis. Their redesign includes all manner of Potter-related touches like the H-for Hogart inscribed carpeted floors, Potteresque lanterns and sconces.
The 40-member cast features seven actors of the original London production. All expertly bring the key characters they again play to believable life: Jamie Parker and Poppy Miller as Harry and Ginny Potter; Noma Dumezweni and Paul Thorne as their now married Hogwarts friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley; Sam Clemetts as Albus Potter, Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy and Alex Price as his father Draco Malfoy.
Scorpius is the play's best new character, and as portrayed by Anthony Boyle it's a truly career-making performance. Though Scorpius is newly minted, he fits into the Pottersphere since book readers will remember the older Malfoy as a quite different character. Scorpio and Albus's joint adventures add the importance of friendship to the father and son theme.
The new cast added on this side of the Atlantic include the always terrific Byron Jennings who plays several roles. I won't tell you which ones since that would make me untrue to that "Keep the Secrets" button.
Much as I enjoyed my two evenings with the grown up Potter characters and the second generation of wizards, I'm still not a committed Potterite. However, the enthusiasm all around me and being the lavishly redesigned Lyric Theater added up to two memorable evenings I wouldn't have wanted to miss.
Clever as the play's time traveling plot is, I thought some trimming wouldn't have hurt, and might even have made a more economical and easier to schedule all-in-one show possible — but then the producers couldn't have turned this into a double ticket event, or the sort of epic theatrical outing New Yorkers love.
Since tickets for both parts put you in the same seat, I had a chance to get to know 6-year-old Charlie Fabel who sat right in front of me. Charlie, who usually doesn't get a chance to be up and about on a school night was happy to be on the Great White Way two nights in a row. His mom was so excited to win lottery tickets that she didn't notice that the recommended age for the show is age 8 and up. Fortunately, Charlie had a fine time and seemed to have no trouble understanding what was happening on stage. He did get a little restless during the last half hour of Part One (but to be honest, so did I), and he came back the next evening, happily waving the magic wand his mom bought him, the use of which on stage he obviously liked. Unsurprisingly his favorite character was Albus but he found much else to praise, including the decorations of the theater. Clearly the story, and the money spent on creating an all-encompassing environment have made Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a show that can turn very young kids into enthusiastic and discriminating theater goers.
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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two
Original play by Jack Thorne
Based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Directed by John Tiffany
Main Cast Members: Jamie Parker (Harry Potter), Noma Dumezweni (Hermione Granger) and Paul Thornley (Ron Weasley) with Poppy Miller (Ginny Potter), Sam Clemmett (Albus Potter), Alex Price (Draco Malfoy) and Anthony Boyle (Scorpius Malfoy).
Additional cast (multiple roles): David Abeles, Brian Abraham, Shirine Babb, Jess Barbagallo, Olivia Bond, Stephen Bradbury, Lauren Nicole Cipoletti, Will Coombs, Joshua De Jesus, Jessie Fisher, Richard Gallagher, Susan Heyward, Geraldine Hughes, Edward James Hyland, Byron Jennings, Katie Kreisler, Joey LaBrasca, Andrew Long, Landon Maas, Kathryn Meisle, Angela Reed, Dave Register, Adeola Role, James Romney, Nathan Salstone, Malika Samuel, Alanna Saunders, Brooklyn Shuck, David St. Louis, Stuart Ward, Madeline Weinstein, Alex Weisman and Benjamin Wheelwright
Movement by Steven Hoggett
Set by Christine Jones
Costumes by Katrina Lindsay
Music & arrangements by Imogen Heap
Lighting by Neil Austin
Sound by Gareth Fry
Illusions & magic by Jamie Harrison
Music supervision & arrangements by Martin Lowe
Video Design by Finn Ross & Ash Woodward
Hair, Wigs & Makeup by Careole Hancocks
Stage Manager: Rolt Smith
Part 1: 2 hours and 40 minutes; Part 2: 2 hours and 30 minutes, both include intermission
Lyric Theatre 214 West 43rd Street
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at Aprl 12th and April 13th press performances
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