Monday, April 30, 2018

215 (2017-2018): Review: HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD (seen April 28, 2018)

“Now Departing from Track 9 ¾”

Judging by the fanfare, the glowing reviews, the difficulty of getting seats (regardless of the exorbitant prices), its huge success in London, and the fact that, at a reported $68 million Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is by many millions the most expensive show in history, one might expect that seeing it would be a once-in-a-lifetime theatrical thrill ride you would visit even at the cost of your immortal soul.

And, for countless fans, even the soul-sellers, it is. Harry Potter and his fellow wizards have cast a worldwide spell that nothing is likely to undo, certainly not a few skeptical reviews about his Broadway debut from critical Voldemorts. 

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened in London in July 2016, nearly 20 years after the first book in J.K. Rowling’s series was published, when the boy-wizard was 11. The script is by Jack Thorne, based on a story by Thorne, Rowling, and John Tiffany, who directed. It broke records for the number of Olivier Award nominations (11) and wins (9) it racked up.

Noma Dumezweni, Susan Heyward, Paul Thornley, Olivia Bond, Ben Wheelwright, Jamie Parker, Poppy Miller, Sam Clemmett. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
The New York production, which includes several actors from the London original, will surely approach that number of Tonys and multiple other awards now that it’s ensconced at Broadway’s Lyric Theatre (which is actually a 1998 combination of the original Lyric [1903] and Apollo Theatres [1910]). It's by no means a great play but is certainly a great experience.
Sam Clemmett, Brian Abraham, Anthony Boyle. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
Part of the cost for producing the show has been targeted on exquisitely renovating the Lyric into something reminiscent of a spatially yawning European opera house. Its look captures the Victorian style associated with Hogwarts, the wizardry school at the heart of the stories.
Poppy Miller, Jamie Parker. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
As befits a Hagrid-size behemoth like the seven-novel, eight-movie Potter series, the play it inspired is in two parts, which can be seen on separate days or in a matinee and evening performance on the same day, which is how I attended. The first part is two hours and 40 minutes, the second two hours and 35, totaling over five hours (including intermissions).
Jamie Parker, Sam Clemmett. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
The story takes place 19 years after the last book. Harry (Jamie Parker) is 37, he’s married to Ginny Weasley (Poppy Miller), and is sending his middle son, Albus (Sam Clemmett) off to Hogwarts. Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley) and his wife, Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezwani), are doing the same with their daughter, Rose Granger-Weasley (Susan Heyward). Harry is a bureaucrat at the Ministry of Magic and Ron operates a store selling jokes.
Jamie Parker. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
The complex plot throws Albus and the white-haired Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle), son of Harry’s similarly white-haired nemesis, Draco Malfoy (Alex Price), together as students in Slytherin House, rather than Albus being sent to Gryffindor. Albus is disgruntled, hating the school and feeling overshadowed by his famous dad.
Noma Dumezweni, Jamie Parker, Paul Thornley. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
There follow a series of magical and dangerous adventures during which Albus and Scorpius’s friendship evolves amidst a rash of incidents involving a blanket on which a magic potion has spilled, the use of Time Turners to travel into the past so history can be altered by preventing Cedric Diggory’s (Benjamin Wheelright) death, painful parent-child issues between Harry and Albus, as well as Draco and Scorpius, the manifestation of alternate realities, a talking portrait of the late Albus Dumbledore (Edward James Hyland), Triwizard Tournaments, a GPS-like map, invisibility cloaks, quidditch sticks, Bane the centaur (David St. Louis), and so on.
Jamie Parker. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
Which is not to deny the appearance of the Death Eaters, Severus Snape (Byron Jennings), the Dementors, Moaning Myrtle (Lauren Nicole Cipolleti), the mysterious Delphi Diggory (Jessie Fisher), Lord Voldemort (Jennings), and other familiar entities—magical and Muggles—in the boundless Potter canon.
Jamie Parker, Alex Price. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
Numerous obstacles to the boys’ achieving their goals arise, but, time and again, someone comes up with a remarkable breakthrough, knowing just what magical device will save the day, and often seconded by someone else, who solves whatever issues still remain in the first solution. This increasingly tiresome pattern of Eureka! moments is repeated over and over as the clocks (many appear in the show) tick down and the finale approaches.
Brian Abraham. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
For visitors wishing a brief summary of the Potter oeuvre this summary link (also printed in the program) might help, although, like me, you may find it makes more sense after you’ve seen the play than before. Those who have only the barest familiarity (or none) with the Potter books will be at a disadvantage, so it’s best to go with someone who knows them, as I and a number of other reviewers did.
Company of Harry Potter and the  Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
 In my case, a reading of the first book and a viewing of the first two movies gave me a fair idea of what to expect but my 26-year-old granddaughter, who’d been reading the books since they first appeared—my God! She must have been six or seven!—has Potter blood in her veins. Although even her enthusiasm lapsed at some moments, I admit, she was very impressed by how well the material transferred to the stage and at a number of the special effects.
Company of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
I don’t recall seeing a play where so many unknown actors were applauded on their entrances. That’s because the audience, like my granddaughter, immediately recognized each beloved character and clapped for them, not their actors. It was like hearing a single chord of a popular song at a concert or musical and immediately responding to what one knows is coming. I had to ask my granddaughter things like who was Neville Longbottom, the mere mention of whose name sent an excited ripple through the audience.

Although there are serious moments of human interest in the dramatic interactions among the play’s friends and family member characters, audiences—especially those taking young kids along (and there were plenty when I went although I can’t imagine how much they’re comprehending)—are likely to be entranced mostly by the spectacle.
Brian Abraham and company. Photo: Matthew Murphy.
People fly about, dancers in black capes swirl around doing Steven Hoggett’s movements to Imogen Heap’s atmospheric music, characters transform before your eyes into others, books open so their pages can talk, blazing fire flashes across the stage, Dementors in flimsy sheets swirl overhead (even above the audience in the mezzanine and balcony), furniture moves without human agency, and the like. Illusions and tricks are credited to Jamie Harrison, special effects to Jeremy Chernick.
Company of Harry Potter and the  Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
All occurs within Christine Jones’s imposing set of metal structural arches like those in a grand railroad station, with a huge clock hovering over all up center. At certain explosive moments, the arches tremble like rubber. The individual locations in this multi-scened work, however, are, for the most part, standard units that roll off and on, pushed by actors, the most conspicuous being a pair of tall staircases that are choreographed to slide into a surprisingly diverse number of positions.

Katrina Lindsay’s costumes are just what the play’s combination of late Victorian realism and fantasy require. Neil Austin’s lighting offers the many effects required, of course, but, apart from all those piercing shafts of light in the gloom, the overall effect is dark and smoky (the fog machine gets a  workout).
Edward James Hyland, Sam Clemmett, Anthony Boyle. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
While the mixed British and American cast speaks the wordy dialogue precisely, the driving pace and need to reach ears in the large house (even with miking) forces much of it to be shouted, with little room for subtlety. It’s a widespread problem, some actors guiltier than others, but the result often suggests old-time melodrama, which, I suppose, is probably close to the heart of the Harry Potter syndrome.

Noma Dumezweni's Hermione, Sam Clemmett’s Albus, Poppy Miller's Ginny, and Jamie Parker’s Harry—all from the London production—manage to establish reasonably believable personages within this world of mostly two-dimensional characters; New York’s Byron Jennings also belongs here. My granddaughter thought Lauren Nicole Cipoletti’s Moaning Myrtle was just as she should be, although I was clueless about her weird persona, while Anthony Boyle’s Scorpius and Alex Price’s Draco, both London originals, left me unmoved.
Noma Dumezweni, David St. Louis. Photo: Manuel Harlan.
One final thought: reviewers have been asked not to give away how the play ends. Very understandable. However, on thinking back to the ending of this lengthy, complicated play, I can’t say I actually remember it, so I'm the last person who's going to give it away. If you really want to know, ask my granddaughter. 


Lyric Theatre
214 W. 43rd St., NYC
Open run