New York City Theater
"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child"
If “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” were all magic tricks, transformations, fire and fury, it would be for naught. But the blockbusting, two-part stage sequel to all those books and films is more than a sorcerous adventure tale. Based on archetypes and tropes that have served authors well, it is, boldly and baldly, a “King of the Forest” battle between fathers and sons. Will the younger win, symbolically “killing” the older by replacing him? (“When unseen children murder their fathers, then will the Dark Lord return.”)
It’s been 19 years since Harry triumphed in the Battle of Hogwarts. He and his wife Ginny, Ron Weasley’s sister, are parents to three children. The middle child, Albus Severus (named after favorite professor, Albus Dumbledore and supposed nemesis, Severus Snape) sets off for his father’s alma mater, Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. If defiant Albus can help it, he won’t be in his father’s famous footsteps.
Dad, you see, still works at the Ministry of Magic, alongside Hermione Granger, who’s married to Ron. Albus becomes best friends with Scorpius Malfoy, who’s also having father-son difficulties with his dad, Draco, once Harry’s rival.
What about Lord Voldemort, the evil wizard whose very name shall remain unspoken? Plus Cedric, perhaps dead? Throw in Snape, Hagrid, the gentle giant, the Trolley Witch in a spectacular bit atop a moving train and Bane the half-man, half-horse who prompts the evening’s loopiest line, ”Bane is an extremely angry centaur” – and you have a potpourri of characters familiar to, and beloved by, every fan of the Potter series.
Muggles, however – those of us without the magical powers to endure seven books, eight movies and a five-and-half-hour sitting at the Lyric Theater – will surely focus on being dazzled. Mouths agape, “How did they do that?” running through our minds, we’ll be regaled with the kind of stagecraft only millions of bucks can buy. On pain of a spell being cast over your faithful reviewer, details about such wonders shall remain secret.
Indeed, wizards there may be on the stage, but the true wizards are unseen. Start with J. K. Rowling, original author of the Potter books who, with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, fashioned a new story that continues the saga. Thorne then wrote the script which Tiffany directs with surpassing, imaginative, brilliance. Amazing work is done by movement director Steven Hoggett, set designer Christine Jones, lighting designer Neil Austin, costume designer Katrina Lindsay and sound designer Gareth Fry, with illusions and magic by Jamie Harrison and music composed and arranged by Imogen Heap. No wonder the work has been nominated for 10 Tony Awards.
Despite all the hullabaloo, Tiffany manages, somehow, to not let go of the human element or themes about love, friendship and the mystery of time. As Scorpius, newcomer Anthony Boyle is terrific. Balancing the character’s feelings of inferiority and shyness, his yearning for a friend and his sensing rejection by his father, Boyle quite dominates. It’s his story we follow.
As his counterpart, Albus, Sam Clemmett is moving as a confused, needy teen. The other actors brought over from London – Noma Dumezweni (Hermione), Poppy Miller (Ginny), Jamie Parker (Harry), Alex Price (Draco) and Paul Thornley (Ron) -- are inventive embodiments of their familiar characters. But let’s also praise the Americans: Jessie Fisher (Delphi), Lauren Nicole Cipoletti (Moaning Myrtle), Geraldine Hughes (Trolley Witch), Susan Heyward (Rose), Byron Jennings (Snape) Kathryn Meisle (Aunt Petunia) and, of course, David St. Louis, as the prancing centaur.
It’s all such a huge undertaking, an exhaustive event, filled with twirling cloaks, tons of scenery, 40 actors and a program that summarizes the novels, its people and its places. A glossary fills in identities and a psychiatrist’s essay explains “how early childhood experiences can shape the adults we become.”
But no exegesis is necessary nor does keeping all the characters straight. Just sit back and let it waft over you. But watch out for those wands!
--David A. Rosenberg
May 21, 2018