The Lyric, former home to Broadway’s most expensive musical (the infamous Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark), now houses Broadway’s most expensive play. But Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, all two parts and six-ish hours of it, should be there for a more extended stay. My nine-year-old daughter and I recently made a day of it, and it lived up to its advanced billing, captivating even this Muggle-ish critic.
I haven’t really done the work with Harry Potter. Oh, I’ve seen all the movies (a chore after the fourth or so) and we enjoyed the theme park at Universal Studios Florida last summer. (The theming is impeccable, and the main ride a true jaw-dropper.) But Larissa has read all the books and the published script to the play (written by Jack Thorne, from an original story by director John Tiffany and magister J.K. Rowling), owns some of the merch, steeped herself in the park with her mom while I rested outside its gates, and knows the best of the films by heart. I was glad to have her, as she explained some of the finer points of the HPU (Harry Potter Universe) to me. (The Showbill has a helpful glossary and guide, though it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting to make this commitment without some foreknowledge.)
In layman terms, Cursed Child is to Harry Potter what Back to the Future Part II is to that franchise: a sequel, and a revisit. Two decades after the defeat of Voldemort, Harry (Jamie Parker, a history boy not long ago) and wife Ginny (Poppy Miller) have settled awkwardly into almost-midlife, he as the Head of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic, and she editing the sports page at The Daily Prophet. Their second son, Albus (Sam Clemmett), if off to Hogwarts, as is Rose (Susan Heyward), the daughter of Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley) and Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni). To the surprise of all, Albus is “sorted” into the foreboding Slytherin House; even more surprising, Albus finds a bestie in the unlikely person of Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle), unlikely given Harry’s complicated history with his father, Draco (Alex Price). The family conflicts prod the new students to use the dangerous Time Turner to reverse one of the more traumatic events in Harry Potterdom–which inevitably creates new problems that could very well lead to the resurrection of the dread Lord Voldemort.
“He Who Must Not Be Named” and Severus Snape appear in the show, both courtesy of the great Broadway veteran Byron Jennings, who adds Uncle Vernon for a triple threat. Main Stem familiars Kathryn Meisle and Geraldine Hughes are also in a cast big enough for the Lyric. But the heaviest lifting is done by the West End imports, who have relocated to a space beautifully (and, for some, hazardously) reupholstered for the spectacle. The weight of the storied past hangs heavily over the adults, stifling Ron and Hermione’s marriage and disrupting Harry’s relationship with his eager-to-please, yet troubled, son. The most intriguing idea in the densely plotted saga is that the bond formed by the trio in their youth crowds out everything else in their adult lives, and Parker, Thornley, and in particular Dumezweni show the interlocking joys and tensions that have accumulated over the years. The show is all but stolen, however, by Boyle, in a delightfully multifaceted performance as the awkwardly tormented Scorpius, struggling in Draco’s shadow, and uncovering his own shadows as he sloughs it off.
Stay for the involved storyline and the fine acting–but you’ve (also) come for the stage magic, and Harry delivers. The live-action sleight of hand differentiates itself immediately from the CGI-laden movies, with many of the environments conjured by movement director Steven Hoggett, who over the last decade has made himself invaluable here and abroad with his balletic choreography of actors. Despite the pricetag a less-is-more approach has been adopted, with music (Imogen Heap), lighting (Neil Austin), sound (Gareth Fry), and set (Christine Jones) design consistently underplaying the mythology and saving “the good stuff” for key moments. Illusion and magic consultant Jamie Harrison has quite a bag of tricks in store, however, and while I won’t spoil anything let’s say the Dementors have never been quite so demented as they are here. A factor in Broadway’s biggest-grossing season to date, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is nominated for ten Tony Awards, and is likely to fly off with a few on Sunday. My journey through Potterworld ended on a fully satisfying note–then my daughter reminded me that we still have to see the movie tour, in London. This parent may be done with Harry Potter, but Harry Potter isn’t done with me.
Rounding out my 2017-2018 theatre season was the Drama Desk Awards, which made as much lemonade as could be squeezed out of a lemon-y Broadway year, and rightly favored better tidings from Off regarding nominations. But happy to see that SpongeBob SquarePants soaked up a lot of love, with a half-dozen well-earned plaudits.