Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review: Always Magic on Broadway

Like many children, Harry Potter grew up growing up. JK Rowling’s latest novels in the series are twice as thick or even thicker than the first. The duration of the film versions culminated with the adaptation of this latest volume, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, divided into two parts of a combined duration of four and a half hours. In 2018, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” – an original play by Jack Thorne, based on a story by Thorne, Rowling and John Tiffany – opened on Broadway at the lavishly refurbished Lyric Theater. Also divided in half, the total experience exceeded five hours.

But now Harry seems to have shrunk. After a pandemic shutdown (and reported production cost issues), “Cursed Child” is back, shorter and more streamlined, its two parts have collapsed into one and its length reduced by a third. The creators were silent about the mechanics of this revision; call it “Harry Potter and the Mysterious Digest”. I guess someone pointed a wand at the published script and shouted “Brevioso! “

The new version, which open Tuesday, feels smaller – its themes are more austere, its concession to the fandom more blatant. But as directed by Tiffany and choreographed by Steven Hoggett, with essential score from Imogen Heap, it remains sharp in its staging and dazzling in its visual imagination, as magical as any spell or potion.

The essence of the plot has not changed. “Cursed Child” still opens where the epilogue of “Deathly Hallows” leaves off, 19 years after the decisive battle of the Hogwarts book. On the way to this school of witchcraft and witchcraft are Albus Potter (James Romney) – Harry Potter’s second son (Steve Haggard, replacing James Snyder at the performance I attended) and Ginny Potter (Diane Davis) ) – and Rose Granger – Weasley (Nadia Brown), daughter of Hermione Granger (Jenny Jules) and Ron Weasley (David Abeles).

On board the Hogwarts Express, Albus meets Scorpius Malfoy (Brady Dalton Richards), the son of Harry’s former nemesis, Draco Malfoy (Aaron Bartz), who offers him candy. The budding friendship of Albus and Scorpius upsets their two fathers, complicating already strained relationships and putting everyone wizarding at risk. Because what is Harry Potter without the threat of an apocalypse and without the occasional chocolate frog?

The audience experience begins long before the lights go out, through the lavish lobby and into the auditorium. Every rug, curtain, light fixture and strip of wallpaper immerses you in the Potterverse. It’s a wonder of the imagination, and more shows should think about extending the design beyond the stage. Even the reminder to wear a mask is billed as a boarding announcement for the Hogwarts Express.

In the first moments, this train seems to have been redeveloped into a high speed train. Everyone was moving and talking so fast – Jules and Richards were almost unintelligible – I was briefly worried that this new version was just the old one being played at 1.5 times the speed. Once, I counted two consecutive seconds during which nothing happened on stage. Just once.

Still, there are excisions, most of them so surgical you would never notice, although I did miss Hogwarts’ beloved gardener Hagrid a bit. Other changes are more pointed, such as making Albus and Scorpius’ relationship explicitly romantic, which has the effect of smoothing out the father-son conflict. Gone are also the dream sequences which reinforced the dismal tenor of the piece and provided a large part of its exposure.

With much of that context missing, the show is now more difficult to recommend to anyone new to Potteralia. (Surely there has to be someone left?) The most audible reaction I’ve heard came when a character introduced herself as Dolores Ombrage, a revelation that means nothing without knowledge of the books and movies. Fortunately, I had brought my daughter, an 8 year old girl who made her own butter beer and identifies strongly as a Gryffindor.

During the intermission, she turned to me, her eyes shining and round like snakes of gold. “This film has great special effects!” she said. She often calls plays, a nice way to troll her drama critic mother. Still, I couldn’t entirely disagree. The original “Cursed Child”, with its lush runtime and hyperfocus – for better or worse – on the emotional lives of its characters, felt explicitly theatrical, pulling out a true work of dramatic art to a massively popular franchise. This new version remains lovely, but is also, like the film adaptations, a more obvious attempt to capitalize on Pottermania.

Yet there are plenty of films – even those with the extravagant CGI budgets of the “Harry Potter” films – that fall far short of the magic of Tiffany’s directing, enhanced by Christine Jones’ sets, costumes from Katrina Lindsay, the lighting of Neil Austin and the sound of Gareth Fry. Jamie Harrison’s illusions, the makings of the phoenix feather and unicorn horn, are an absolute astonishment. (Were the firefighters bewitched to approve the pyrotechnics of this show?) During the accelerated start, I wondered, grimly, if the show could now exist as another theme park attraction. It’s more than that. Besides, three and a half hours of enchantment is still a hell of a ride.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
At the Lyric Theater, Manhattan; harrypottertheplay.com. Duration: 3 hours 30 minutes.

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