Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is haunted by death and pain; it is often suspenseful and sometimes downright frightening. Yet amid the cinematic tumult and dazzle of the densely action-packed plot, Thorne and Tiffany carve out quiet scenes of intimacy and tenderness. Great care has gone into creating each moment of this state-of-the-art adventure. It leaves its audience awestruck, spellbound and deeply satisfied.
HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD Broadway Reviews
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I can't speak for non-fans of all things "Harry Potter" (poor souls), but for those of us who treasure J.K. Rowling's masterful series of young adult novels, the new Broadway mega-production "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two" is a magnificent treat - both an ingenious continuation of the Potter saga and a complete reinvention of it for an entirely new form. I sat through this two-part, five-and-a-half-hour effort alternately awestruck and giddy, much as - come to think of it - I felt first reading Rowling's books. By the end, I would have been perfectly content to watch it carry on for five-and-a-half hours more.
Harry Potter is on Broadway! As a Potter newbie, I was wondering how much I would 'get,' and how much I wouldn't. But you can really go to this as not a fan and still have a very enjoyable time at the theatre. Of course, being a fan means you get all the 'greatest hits' of returning characters and plot points and references only a fan would know. Well, whoever you are, you get around five hours of really astonishing on-stage magic-overseen by Jamie Harrison-alongside some well-drawn paternally-themed and past-tragedy drama. The Cursed Child is split into two parts: You can watch both on one day, as we did, or break the two parts up however you choose.
The show, for its many twisty turns, belongs squarely to its most consistent leads, its equally cursed children: Boyle and Clemmett, two fine English actors who, at 23 and 24, are as exceptional a leading pair as those Mormon boys or Wicked girls. Reprising their West End roles, both young men are formidable individually but meteoric together, specifically in their happy seizure of the central theme of this and Rowling's saga in general: friendship. Good friendship. The kind of friendship that trounces ostracization, that vanquishes evil, that draws power from the triumph of an inside joke as much as a shared tragedy. Boyle plays Scorpius, ostensibly Hogwarts' biggest outcast, with a ferocious nerve and mischievous wit; he's funny and heartbreaking and applies a vexing if effective quantity of outbursts to service his character's epiphanic moments. Clemmett, on the opposite hand, is an understated wonder; as the embittered but well-intentioned Albus, he has the less showy and perhaps more prohibitive role, but with a boyish charm Clemmett adroitly dodges pratfalls of teenage anguish and "Ugh, dad!" resentment to remain hugely likable and empathetic even as he creates disaster after disaster for himself. The sparks the two actors create together are so dynamic, their occasional absence onstage does not go unnoticed.
And mind you, the show is all special effects. But while there is a good deal of machinery and a greater deal of millions behind it all, the specialest effect that shines through-and, truly, makes Cursed Child what it is-is high-grade theatrical imagination. We can easily list the admirable production staff: Christine Jones (sets), Katrina Lindsay (costumes), Neil Austin (lighting), Finn Ross and Ash Woodward (video), Gareth Fry (sound), Jamie Harrison (illusions and magic), Carole Hancock (hair, wigs and make-up) and Imogen Heap (composer and arranger). It is not quite so easy, though, to separate their accomplishments: everything blends in to create this wizardrous mélange. Prime among Tiffany's team is "movement director" Steven Hoggett, of both Once and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Cursed Child is a true collaboration between Tiffany and Hoggett, and quite something to see.
As Cursed Child is one of the most plot-heavy texts to appear on Broadway since melodrama became déclassé and suspense is the spell that keeps it whooshing along, it would be unsporting to say much more. Still, fans of the source texts (who cheered and gasped their way through a recent, all-day performance, were treated to some familiar faces. And maybe some faceless faces, too. Cynics not already ensorcelled will wonder if Harry Potter belongs on Broadway at all and some of that wondering is valid. Like Frozen and Mean Girls and Escape to Margaritaville it's another show capitalizing on a known and already popular quantity. It is in dialogue with its fans (how else to explain the screams of delight when Moaning Myrtle appears?) and will deeply perplex anyone who hasn't read the delightful books or seen the so-so movies.
The play - whose story is credited to Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany - has an emotional honesty that, like the books, never sinks into sentimentality and guarantees its endurance. At its essence is a story about parents and children, specifically fathers and sons, struggling to connect with a loved one they can't understand.
The stagecraft on display is unlike anything I've seen, with magical moments taking your breath away at every turn. Brooms and suitcases and people fly about with abandon on Christine Jones' inventive set, fire flashes across the stage, a lake materializes, then a forest. Time travels and everything is a blur. Oh, please, could we have instant replay?
Aside from being able to easily grasp the numerous references in the dialogue, a theatergoer with no prior "wizarding" experience should still be able to have a great time - and may even find the show more enthralling than would a longtime fan who already knows the "Harry Potter" universe inside and out.
Is it strictly for Potterheads? Not at all, though anyone going in cold, with no prior knowledge of the stories, will miss much of the clever cross-referencing of characters and events from throughout the series. A detailed recap starting with the key prophecy that propelled the entire saga and continuing with a breakdown of each of the seven novels is provided in the program and will be helpful to the uninitiated. But there's also a universal dimension to the human drama here - the challenges of parenting, the conflict between fathers and teenage sons burdened by intimidating legacies, the sustaining force of love and friendship, the eternal grip of the past - that will prove poignant and meaningful even to audiences unversed in the wizarding wars. I'm by no means a Potter obsessive but I was amazed, watching the plays, at how vividly these characters are embedded in our cultural consciousness. You can feel the electric charge in the theater even before the action begins, and it's highly infectious, whatever your prior exposure.
But the additional-and perhaps the most powerful-enchantment of this particular trip to the theater is actually on our side of the footlights. Looking around me, I saw Hogwarts house colors, black robes, and wands filling the seats. When Jamie Parker made his first entrance as Harry Potter, and when Noma Dumezweni and Paul Thornley first appeared as Hermione and Ron, the already crackling energy in the dark auditorium erupted. (Later, I heard a woman actually scream in delight when a silhouette resembling that of Severus Snape began to glide forward, back to us, on the set's big central turntable.) This isn't normal entrance applause: The audience is cheering not for celebrities but for characters. Not that the actors aren't doing cheer-worthy work. On the contrary, they're turning in effective, endearing performances, from Parker's stubborn, struggling, still emotionally stunted Harry, to Thornley's dad-jokey Ron, to Dumezweni's restrained (but comically adept) Hermione and Poppy Miller's patient, not-to-be-messed-with Ginny.
The production's magic is hardly limited to well-choreographed transitions, though, with illusions ranging from the seemingly high-tech - lightning streams of flame, or a dreamlike effect that has the entire set shimmering with every jump in time - to age-old stage trickery modernized and perfected (unseen hands in black tote levitating actors, while some bat-wing swirls of Hogwarts cloaks all but demand a voila!). In theory, a visit from the wraithlike Dementors - relax, I'm not saying when, how or why - owes a nod to a hoary old Roger Corman gimmick, but the similarity ends with intent: The execution here is genuinely thrilling.
As with any story, it's all in the telling. What's so wondrous is how low-tech stagecraft brings such high-definition delight as the action unfolds on the Christine Jones' arch-filled set filled with glow and gloom by Neil Austin. Suitcases turn into train cars; bookcases come alive; mobile staircases whirl as if in a living Escher print. Music by Imogen Heap and movement by Steven Hoggett create their own pinch-me moments.
This elaborate two-part, 5½ -hour stage sequel to J.K Rowling's canonical series is like a witchy worship service for the countless consumers of every magical segue and subplot of the seven books and eight Harry Potter movies from which it draws inspiration. During the full day of performances I attended in the Lyric Theatre - refurbished as part of the production's reported $68 million, pre-opening budget - roars and applause broke out for the entrances not of star actors, but of familiar supporting characters like Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape and Dolores Umbridge. If that is any indication of a devotional intensity waiting to be tapped, this deft homage will be inducing swoons in Times Square for years to come.
For this slyly manipulative production knows exactly how, and how hard, to push the tenderest spots of most people's emotional makeups. By that I mean the ever-fraught relationships between parents and children, connections that persist, often unresolved, beyond death. Time-bending, it turns out, has its own special tools of catharsis in this regard. In the multiple worlds summoned here, it is possible for kids to instantly become their grown-up mentors, and for a son to encounter his forbidding father when dad was still a vulnerable sapling. "I am paint and memory," a talking portrait of the long-dead wizard Dumbledore (Edward James Hyland) says to his former star pupil, Harry. Well, that's art, isn't it? Substitute theatrical showmanship for paint, and you have this remarkable production's elemental recipe for all-consuming enchantment.
And all the things that make "Cursed Child" so theatrically remarkable are only intensified now. The list begins with how Tiffany, Hoggett and the designer Christine Jones carved out a theatrical playing space for the storytelling, something that interacts with what you have in your head and does not compete with the images of the movies. That is, Snape still looks like Snape, Dolores Umbridge like Dolores Umbridge, but when Albus and Scorpius stare out at the intimidating sight of Hogwarts, all Tiffany and his lighting designer, Neil Austin, choose to do is turn on the houselights.
Once you get past the sensory (and commercial) blandishments and the show begins, it's clear that director John Tiffany and his wizard designers have answered the big question: What can the theater do for the story of Harry Potter that the books and movie treatments haven't done? In a word, the theater has brought its own brand of wizardry to the material. Visually and aurally, the show presents a panorama of dazzling effects that draw audible gasps from the audience.
From row P of the orchestra section of the cavernous Lyric Theatre, one might feel a bit disconnected from the characters and plot, especially with designer Christopher Jones' skeletal set adding to the hollowness, but admittedly, that might just be the result of my unfamiliarity with the play's backstory. Surely, judging from the enthusiastic responses throughout the two-parter, fans of the books and films were having a blast.
Despite the show's reported record-breaking $68 million price tag, Tiffany has wisely chosen to give the "Cursed Child" a low-tech look. As long as parents don't have to take out a mortgage to purchase the tickets, the two-part play is great children's theater that in no way attempts to replicate the movies. The stage versions of "Mary Poppins" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" dumbed the imagination with their literal interpretations. Tiffany avoids that visual trap by suggesting a train, for example, rather than presenting one on stage. The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is little more than two moving staircases, and yet, in one illuminating sequence those steps conjure up dozens of locales in the imagination of any theatergoer, young or old.
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