(l to r) Noma Dumezweni, Jamie Parker and Paul Thornley in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’ (Photo: Manuel Harlan)
The play’s the thing on Broadway this season. That is, if you’ve got five to seven hours to burn and a wad full of cash to spend. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has descended upon the Lyric Theatre and given the $68 million price tag to produce, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. A few blocks away, an emotionally shattering revival of Angels in America continues to wow crowds at the Neil Simon Theatre, boasting the most Tony Award nominations for a play in Broadway history. Each demands a certain amount of resilience, particularly if you decide to attend both parts in a single day. But the rewards are tenfold.
While the latter offers a fantastical exploration of the AIDS crisis and other late-20th-century political underpinnings, the former delivers fantasy derived from the brilliant imagination of J.K. Rowling, creator of the wildly successful book series and now a brand valued at $25 billion. Along with collaborators John Tiffany and Jack Thorne (all three are credited for the original new story while Thorne is credited as playwright), the trio has successfully catapulted Harry Potter into yet another medium, smartly choosing to age the wizard genius and introduce a new generation of characters while still retaining the books’ familiarity.
The play picks up 19 years after the book series ends. Harry (Jamie Parker) is now 37 years old, married to his best friend Ron’s sister Ginny (Poppy Miller). Together with Ron (Paul Thornley) and his now wife Hermione (Noma Dumezweni), they send their kids off to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. In addition to Harry and Ginny’s youngest son Albus (Sam Clemmett), and Ron and Hermione’s daughter Rose (Susan Heyward), Harry’s childhood nemesis, Draco Malfoy (Alex Pride) has put his own son Scorpius (Anthony Boyle) on the Hogwarts Express.
Once they arrive, the Sorting Hat places Albus and Scorpius in the same fraternal house, Slytherin, and they become quick friends, each trying to live up to family expectations. As teens often do, the pair finds itself in trouble after stealing a time-turner (a device that allows users to travel back in time) in an attempt to undo a bit of Hogwarts history. As expected, it backfires and sets in motion a series of events that recalls much-beloved characters and also introduces new ones such as Delphi Diggory (Jessie Fisher). I won’t go into great detail regarding the outcome, but rest assured that good versus evil emerges in all its theatrical glory as the books’ noseless antagonist rears his ugly head.
Attending Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is an all-encompassing experience, beginning with the newly refurbished Lyric Theatre. Those familiar with the venue, famously built in the late 1990s to house Ragtime, will barely recognize the makeover, which includes custom fixtures, filament lighting, chalk-sketched wall coverings with cryptic messages, and a richly hued palette that will transport you even before the lights dim.
But when they do, buckle in, because the Hogwarts Express will take you on an unforgettable theatrical journey. At more than 1,200 seats, the Lyric is not an easy theatre to present a play, but thanks to director John Tiffany’s keen eye and a stellar creative team that includes Steven Hoggett (movement director), Christine Jones (set designer), Katrina Lindsay (costume designer), Imogen Heap (composer and arranger), Neil Austin (lighting designer), Gareth Fry (sound designer), and Jamie Harrison (illusions and magic), Harry Potter is able to maintain focus as well as a captivating emotional integrity throughout.
The day (and night) I attended, the audience was appropriately packed with parents and their children of varying ages, some so young that they sat on booster seats (although it’s recommended for ages 10 and up). And while Harry and his gang may have a plethora of spells at their disposal, the greatest one of all is that of great theater, which mesmerized viewers of all ages. Not a cry, rumble or cell phone was heard throughout, instead, replaced by gasps at theatrical magic, and a roaring sound of applause at evening’s end.
The triple-threat integration of stagecraft, technology, and good ole’ acting chops legitimize Harry Potter’s Broadway arrival. Hogget’s purposefully pedestrian choreography (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time), amplifies the action and keeps the plot moving at a brisk pace with an array of swooshing capes and wand-waving. Harrison, too, sharply instills a sense of wonderment throughout, perhaps most excitedly in a scene that features the consumption of polyjuice potion, which allows the drinker to transform into another person.
Beyond its theatricality, Harry Potter relies on an exceptional cast, many of who appeared in the original Olivier Award-winning production. Standouts include Parker as the now paternal Harry, Dumezweni as the smoky-voiced adult Hermione, and the emotionally sizzling yet comedic Boyle as Scorpius. Clemmett as the youngest son in the Potter clan duly carries the weight of his lineage, and it is this generation-spanning conflict and unattainable expectation between fathers and sons that imbues the epic storyline with an additional layer of psychological complexity.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will undoubtedly be firmly planted on Broadway for the foreseeable feature. I hope there’s a magic spell to maintain its authenticity, which is as compelling, if not more, than its visual flourishes.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
214 West 43rd Street, NYC
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on social media at @wexlerwrites.