Light and composition are exquisitely used throughout the visually lush Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, now playing on Broadway. Photo by Manuel Harlan.
What’s the hardest show to get tickets to on Broadway right now? Not The Book of Mormon and not Hamilton. That honor belongs to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the first official stage work in the Potterverse. Since tickets first went on sale in March, the Lyric Theatre has been the go-to new show, eclipsing Frozen in glamour with its original story and a huge word of mouth from the show’s London premiere.
Not that Frozen is hurting, having pulled in 96.6% of its maximum potential gross this past week. But if you’re wanting to see either of them in the next three years, you should probably be trying to buy now. Organize your life later; the important thing is getting tickets at a reasonable price – there’s a guaranteed 300 “affordable” tickets priced at $40 per performance, but they go fast. You won’t be seeing this one at TKTS anytime soon, Tony bump or no Tony bump.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child belongs to one of a very small club of contemporary works presented in two substantial parts. It’s not as long as Angels in America, which is currently enjoying a thriving revival on Broadway – Angels clocks in at 7.5 hours, with four 15-minute intermissions interspersed in its two parts – but it’s still more theatre than most. Part One clocks in at 160 minutes (including a 20-minute intermission) and Part Two clocks in at 155 minutes (also including a 20-minute intermission). There’s a lot of action and exposition that passes in this time, which is one of the reasons that this feels so different from most other theatrical experiences that you can consume today. In this respect, it feels much more like one of the Harry Potter novels than one of their cinematic adaptations, with the exception of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, which was similarly split into two parts (they run 146 and 130 minutes, respectively).
Everyone who sees The Cursed Child talks about the stage magic. It is quite spectacular to behold, with flying, magical duels, transformations, teleportation, and more. The producers of the late, unmissed Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark must have been dreaming of a production as slick and filled with awe-inducing effects as this play; thankfully, while there is some fantastic wirework at play, none of it shows the unsafe-by-design issues that plagued that production and injured many actors. It’s justly considered a shoe-in for this year’s Tony Awards for Best Play, a strong candidate for Best Director, and a contender for several acting awards. Had the Best Scenic Design category not been split in 2005, it probably would have ruled the roost for both plays and musicals in the combined category.
So what about its substance? In case you missed the script’s publication or anyone talking about the play before showings of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the story picks up with the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Harry and Ginny’s youngest son is about to head off to Hogwarts. Naturally, a year at a wizarding school is going to be anything but boring, and if there’s a book (or a play) about it, you can bet there’s an evil menace lurking somewhere. From that very first train ride to Hogwarts, the young Albus Severus Potter is bound for a rollercoaster’s worth of excitement, magical and otherwise.
There are a lot of characters coming and going in The Cursed Child — not so surprising, perhaps, with a company of 40 actors, but the ground that they traverse is still impressive. Even more impressive is how little advance knowledge is required of the audience – although the die-hard Potter fans will get more of the references up front, the script by Jack Thorne spins out the exposition in a natural and well-managed manner that neither bores nor overloads. “Show, don’t tell” is operative, and even if you’d never picked up a Harry Potter book or seen one of the films, you’ll follow along pretty well. (The program also includes a detailed guide if you’d like to try a crash course in Potter lore or refresh your memory.)
Without spoiling the plot arc, much of the play delves into Albus (played by Sam Clemmett)’s relationship with Scorpio Malfoy (Anthony Boyle), the son of Harry’s childhood rival Draco. The younger generation of characters from the books are now the adults; Harry (Jamie Parker), Hermione (Noma Dumezweni), Ginny (Poppy Miller), Ron (Paul Thornley) are featured characters, but the main narrative is firmly propelled by the younger generation, chiefly Albus and Scorpio. Along the way, they meet interesting new characters like Delphi (a delightful Jessie Fisher).
“There is never a perfect answer in this messy, emotional world. Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison: the knowledge that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as to breathe.” – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Some other spoiler-free features of this production include the exquisite redecoration of the Lyric Theatre, complete with a welcomingly large number of restrooms for a Broadway theatre. In an unusual step, Broadway’s largest theatre was shrunk from 1,900 seats to 1,500 and completely redecorated for The Cursed Child. The decor includes Harry Potter themed wallpaper in different rooms, lobby drawings that include quotations from the play, dragon-shaped lantern holders, and more.
Visual allure is certainly part of the play’s appeal. The set by Christine Jones is slick, filled with transformations and peppered with cleverly used trapdoors, many incorporating various stage illusions by Jamie Harrison (also the show’s magic designer). Katrina Lindsay’s multiplicity of costumes speak volumes during the show’s many plot twists. The use of lighting by Neil Austin and environmental sound by Gareth Fry are intricate and beautiful, and Fry’s more prominent sound effects and Imogen Heap’s score are powerful when required. There’s a lot of choreography by movement director Steven Hoggett, if less dancing per se – it’s a rare scene change that doesn’t see some sort of stylized movement.
The story of this play is credited jointly to author J.K. Rowling, playwright Jack Throne, and director John Tiffany. Whatever their disparate contributions, the result is a fully realized tale in its own right. Given form on stage, it is an equal contender with Rowling’s better novels, filled with nuggets of wisdom and richly distinctive characters. The script is eminently quotable, and you’ll probably urge your friends to see it just so that you can talk about its chamber of secrets.
Perhaps the biggest spoiler-free question for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is whether or not the whole thing is more than the sum of its parts. Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark was, in the entirety, much less than its disparate elements. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the opposite – a finely told, intricately crafted, well-acted, and thoroughly enjoyable drama.
There’s very little theatre quite like it, and that’s not a bad thing. Some pleasures would spoil us if enjoyed too often.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is now playing at the Lyric Theatre in New York City.
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017. He was previously the Regional Governor for the National Opera Association's North Central Region.
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