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« Barry Jenkins on the Red Carpet | Main | Halloween's Big Weekend and More... »
Monday
Oct222018

Stage Door: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

by Dancin' Dan

You'd be forgiven for thinking, as I did way back in 2013 when it was first revealed a Harry Potter play was in development, that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was going to be an unmitigated disaster. The last time a stage show based on a billion-dollar book and film franchise requiring inspired technical elements opened on Broadway, it was Julie Taymor's legendarily disastrous Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, a production plagued by poor decisions and bad luck from the start. You'd even be forgiven for still being skeptical when Cursed Child opened in London in 2016, and reports from the West End were nearly all rapturous. After all, Rowling and Potter are national treasures, so surely the Brits might have been blowing this a bit out of proportion, right?

Well, dear reader, I'm here to tell you to believe the hype...

I've seen the full production of Cursed Child - told in two two-act plays seen either on the same day or on consecutive nights - twice now, once for the full-day "marathon" seated in the gorgeously renovated Lyric Theater's balcony, and once from the front row of the orchestra over the course of this past Thursday and Friday. Not only does the play hold up to a great deal of scrutiny, but the magic of Rowling's books has survived the transfer to the stage more fully than you could have reasonably hoped for.

Cursed Child begins where the epilogue of the last Harry Potter book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) left off: Harry, his wife Ginny, and his best friends Ron and Hermione are adults, and are sending their children off to Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. This is the first year for both Harry's middle child, Albus Severus Potter, and Ron and Hermione's daughter Rose Granger-Weasley. Albus is a nervous child - nervous about going to Hogwarts, nervous about living up to his older brother James, nervous about living up to his own family name. He finds a kindred spirit in one Scorpius Malfoy, son of Harry's school bully Draco. And that's all the plot details you'll get, because this is truly an experience that gains something from not knowing what's coming next. I will say, however, that the play's exploration of what it is like to be the survivor of incredible trauma, and to be the child of someone who is a piece of living history, is handled with great care and some sharp insight.

But the script is far from the best part of Cursed Child. That would be the jaw-dropping production values and staging. The costumes by Katrina Lindsay are quite covetable, especially the impossibly voluminous wizard's robes that the cast swish around in quite dramatically. Imogen Heap's musical score strikes the perfect magical tone, alternately whimsical and foreboding. The set design by Christine Jones is surprisingly minimalistic, but when paired with Neil Austin's lighting design, it makes some miraculous transformations. And about that lighting design: It is GENIUS. The play is packed full of outstanding visual effects (most of which are impossible to figure out how they were achieved when you're sitting up close), which  marks this production as the most cinematic experience you'll have on Broadway. The entire design team have pulled out all the stops to make this an experience you will never forget.

At the helm of it all is John Tiffany, who takes great pains to make sure the characters and the emotional through-lines of the play are never lost amidst the spectacle. He keeps everything moving at just the right pace, and stages a couple of deeply moving scenes that contain no dialogue at all. Though the script can sometimes come across a bit like fan-service, "Harry Potter's greatest hits - LIVE ON STAGE," Tiffany and his tremendous cast ground the play in emotional truths, with performances that will leave you in tears by the end of part two. Olivier Award-winner Jamie Parker is ideal as the adult Harry, looking and sounding like how you would imagine Daniel Radcliffe will in another twenty years, and Noma Dumezweni (also an Olivier Award-winner) as Hermione and Paul Thornley as Ron likewise capture their characters' no-nonsense and freewheeling attitudes, respectively. But the true stars of the show are Sam Clemmett as Albus and Olivier Award-winner Anthony Boyle as Scorpius. The plot stems from their (mis)adventures at Hogwarts, and they create a believable friendship as a pair of outcasts. Boyle steals the show with his unique sense of comic timing and wonderfully elastic voice. In smaller roles, Poppy Miller as Ginny and Alex Price as Draco make strong impressions as well.

What this all adds up to is that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child truly earns the descriptor "magical," in large part because it embraces the magic of the theater so whole-heartedly. It is by turns hilarious and heart-wrenching, capable of both mystical grandeur and intimate feeling. It is a must for Potter fans, and an astounding time at the theater for everyone else (although you may want to arrive early to read the summary of the series plot, helpfully included in the program). Broadway hasn't seen anything like this in a long time, and it delivers.

But how should you see it? Having done it both ways, I'd suggest seeing both parts in one day (there is a nice long dinner break in between), especially since Part One ends on a MASSIVE cliffhanger. But seeing it on consecutive nights does not dilute the cumulative impact of the play and that's also the cheapest way to see Cursed Child: Every week, the show runs a lottery called the Friday Forty, giving you the chance to get one of the best seats in the house for $40 ($20 per ticket per part on consecutive nights). Considering how much laughter, tears, and magic Cursed Child provides, that may be the best deal on Broadway.

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Reader Comments (9)

this sounds amazing. wish I could see it!

October 22, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterhuh

I was so disappointed when I saw both parts on New Year's Eve in London. I really hated it, I'm afraid, and I'm a big Potter fan.

October 23, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

I should also say I was practically bankrupt after paying for both tickets.

October 23, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

@evangelina: Aside from the ticket cost, was there something about the production that disappointed you, or was it just the story?

I’ve read the published book of the play, which has its set of problems. But I still think the play might be worth seeing on stage, telling a wholly unnecessary story with fresh visuals that take you away from the original books and movies.

October 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBrevity

I was lucky enough to get $40 tickets in first row balcony; saw both parts in one day (which I think would be the best way to do it) a couple of weeks ago. The Lyric is a great theater; no bad seats.

Performances-fantastic
Stage craft-outstanding
Story-meh, a bit disappointing; I'm a huge HP AND Jack Thorne fan, who has penned some other, critically-acclaimed stuff (most recently--Wonder, National Treasure, Kiri; earlier--The Fades, This is England '86, '88). But this story left me a bit flat, even if you ignore Harry Potter canon. Our party all agreed.
Worth seeing? Yes.
Worth paying a lot of money? No. I attend A LOT of theatrical performances, and even for hot tickets I refuse to pay more than 100 bucks for any one show!

That said, I'm sorry I DIDN'T catch a performance of The Ferryman when I was in NYC, which I'm sure will win all the prizes this year.

October 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPam

I read the play and it was underwhelming. Very predictable and repetitive. Maybe with production values it would improve.

October 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

Brevity, {spoilers} I thought the story was fairly ludicrous - especially the villain parentage reveal. And character wise, I felt many were pitched far from their book and film counterparts. Case in point Harry telling McGonagall to FO essentially - and the awkward Dumbledore portrait and Harry scene in which they express their undying love.

But my main problem was the execution of the plays. Particularly the actress who played the villain - very UK pop music presenter like. Throw in an Umbridge who was essentially Dame Edna, some hokey dementors in a sequence that could have been genuinely chilling (end of act one) and all the hokey obvious 'magic' effects and I was shaking my head.

Maybe my expectations were too high but the actors I had bar Hermione were not great. I have seen most of Jack Thorne's stuff and I don't rate him I'm afraid. Too many quick and short scenes with no substance.

October 23, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterevangelina

SPOILERS ABOUND IN THIS COMMENT

evangelina - I'm so sorry to hear you had a bad experience in London! I know that they changed some things for the Broadway production, and I can say that the acting was very good across the board (the Umbridge was essentially "doing" Imelda Staunton from the movies but slightly more malevolent), and the dementor sequence is VERY well done. I feel bad for the actress playing the villain - it's easily the most hokey part as written (at least in Part Two), and she did what she could, which wasn't much, but she was adequate. The parentage reveal was completely ludicrous, but the rest of the production was so strong that I was able to overlook that. I also didn't have a problem with the way the characters were written because... well... they're adults now, and lord knows you change a lot between the ages of 18 and 40. Plus, they're under huge amounts of stress.

October 23, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDancin' Dan

Hermione isn't black.

October 26, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobMiles

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