Review: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is Enchanting
By Christopher Caggiano, Contributing Writer, May 2, 2018
As anyone who’s been near New York City’s Lyric Theatre over the past few weeks can attest, Harry Potter has made his presence in New York City known. The exterior of the theater has been festooned with enough signage and brand identity to make it stand out even amid the visual clutter of 42nd Street. The theater’s new main entrance on 43rd Street is even more dramatic, with a sinister black cloud of indistinct yet baleful specters seemingly flying out of an even larger rendering of the show’s logo.
The interior of the theater is even more dramatic, announcing your entrance into the Potter world from the second you have your ticket scanned. The producers have reportedly spent some $33 million to renovate the Lyric to make it both more intimate and more in keeping the grand visual sweep of Harry’s beloved Hogwarts. On top of the play’s $35.5 million capitalization, the total $68 million price tag makes Harry Potter and the Cursed Child the most expensive non-musical production ever to play Broadway.
That puts Harry Potter about $7 million shy of another recent tenant of the Lyric: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. The main difference here is that Harry Potter actually stands a good chance of making that money back. And then some.
It might seem counterintuitive that the producers would remove seats — some 400 in total by all accounts — from the Lyric’s cavernous auditorium. A false wall surrounds the two middle sections of the orchestra and cuts off the last few rows and two entire side sections. This creates a far more intimate experience, but it also creates greater demand for seats: a smaller house means more scarcity, and scarcity is good for really hot tickets like Harry Potter.
It seems fitting that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child would garner so much praise and attention in the current Broadway season, rife as it is with lazy jukebox shows and cynical movie tie-ins. Harry Potter could have been lazy. It could have been cynical. It likely would have made money even if it were simply a rehash of the books on stage. Thankfully, it isn’t. The plot takes us some 20 years beyond Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with a new story that feels very much of a piece with the books, and the production reflects two things that most franchise extensions don’t have: craft and heart.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is written by British playwright and screenwriter Jack Thorne, based on a story by Thorne, director John Tiffany, and J.K. Rowling herself. A grown-up Harry Potter, just shy of 40, has married Ginny Weasley, and the pair have had children, one of whom, Albus Severus (named after Professors Dumbledore and Snape), is having trouble adjusting to Hogwarts and living in the shadow of his famous father. Albus befriends Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco, and their friendship sets the plot in motion.
Director John Tiffany (Once, The Glass Menagerie) has crafted a fluid and brisk production. Even though the two parts together clock in at over five hours, the pacing rarely flags. The physical production, which includes a completely redesigned auditorium, is downright resplendent. Sometimes there are set pieces that merely suggest a location, and yet the full mise en scène of lighting, projections, costumes, and set design feels sumptuous overall.
And, yes, there’s magic aplenty (by British illusionist Jamie Harrison), as befits a story about wizards, many of which will likely leave you scratching your head as to how they were accomplished. Part one of the play ends with a particularly stunning scenic coup du theatre that had the audience agog. But unlike the last show to play the Lyric, the dreadful Cirque du Soleil pander-fest Paramour, here the tricks never upstage the action, nor do they become the sole reason for the show’s existence.
Adding greatly to the atmosphere of the piece are Imogen Heap’s haunting musical score and Steven Hoggett’s muscular choreography, including a charmingly angular ballet (of sorts) in which the Hogwart’s students learn how to use their wands.
Beyond the physical production, the play’s biggest asset is its ability to make us care about these characters. The plot may involve magical deeds and fantastical creatures, but ultimately the story is about family and redemption. The story is intricate and surprising, but it’s never confusing. As is true in Rowling’s books, the characters are more complex than you might initially believe. Few people are irretrievably evil, and no one is 100% good.
The American cast represents numerous holdovers from the show’s London premier. Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy is quite a find: quirky and personable, but with an endearing sense of vulnerability. Also strong is Sam Clemmett as Albus Potter, Harry’s awkward son whose desperate need to prove himself kicks the play’s story into gear. Also excellent are Poppy Miller as Ginny (Weasley) Potter, Noma Dumezweni as Hermione, Paul Thornley as Ron Weasley, and Alex Price as Draco Malfoy.
Jamie Parker as Harry himself feels a bit more problematic, but that may simply be a function of the way the role is written. Harry struggles to connect with his son, and we see him make a lot of mistakes. As rendered in the play, Harry is definitely real, but he lacks the plucky charm that he has in the novels. Perhaps that’s just an inevitable part of seeing an iconic character growing up, but the character as written is pretty hard to warm up to.
As you might imagine, to fully enjoy Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, it would be really helpful if you’re already familiar with the books and the characters. Personally, I stopped reading the Potter books at Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but I read synopses of the remaining books online. Thankfully, much of Cursed Child revisits events from Goblet of Fire, so I was never at a loss. But it might help to refresh your familiarity with a few of the supporting characters in the narrative, including Cedric Diggory, Delores Umbridge, Neville Longbottom, Moaning Myrtle, and Bane the Centaur.
In short, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a far cry from your typical Broadway brand extension, and in many ways is even an improvement over the quality of the Harry Potter films. It’s also atypical as a Broadway play, at least in terms of the sort of big-idea, heavy-lifting dramas we normally see these days. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a welcome return to the more diversionary theatergoing of the ‘40s and ‘50s, with nothing particularly on its mind except the goal to engage and enchant.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Lyric Theatre, 214 West 43rd Street, for an open run. In two parts: Part 1 (two hours and forty minutes); and Part 2 (two hours and thirty-five minutes). Written by Jack Thorne, based on a story by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. Directed by John Tiffany; movement direction by Steven Hoggett; scenic design by Christine Jones; costume design by Katrina Lindsay; lighting design by Neil Austin; sound design by Gareth Fry; video design by Finn Ross and Ash Woodward; illusions and magic by Jamie Harrison; composer and arranger: Imogen Heap; music supervision and arranger: Martin Lowe; production stage manager: Rolt Smith.
Cast: Jamie Parker, Noma Dumezweni, Paul Thornley, Poppy Miller, Sam Clemmett, Alex Price, Anthony Boyle, David Abeles, Brian Abraham, Shirine Babb, Jess Barbagallo, Stephen Bradbury, Lauren Nicole Cipoletti, Joshua De Jesus, Jessie Fisher, Richard Gallagher, Susan Heyward, Geraldine Hughes, Edward James Hyland, Byron Jennings, Katie Kreisler, Joey LaBrasca, Andrew Long, Kathryn Meisle, Angela Reed, Dave Register, Adeola Role, James Romney, Malika Samuel, Alanna Saunders, David St. Louis, Stuart Ward, Madeline Weinstein, Alex Weisman and Benjamin Wheelwright.
Cover: (l. to r.) Noma Dumezweni, Susan Heyward, Paul Thornley, Olivia Bond, Ben Wheelwright, Jamie Parker, Poppy Miller, Sam Clemmett in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child;’ photo: Manuel Harlan.