“For The First Time Ever…” Harry Potter On Broadway First Preview, Friday, March 16th, 2018
“It appears that you’re excited to see out little play…” John Tiffany said with a beaming smile from the proscenium of the Lyric Theatre, an old word for a brand new stage. John is the co-writer and director of “Harry Potter And The Cursed Child,” and he had reasons to beam last night at the first preview of the eagerly anticipated, sold out a year in advance, in effect book eight of JK Rowling’s Young Adult masterpiece fantasy series makes its New York debut. The Tony Award winning director (for “Once”) continued, “We’re very, very, very excited. Here we are, finally, in New York for the first time e-vaaaah, and here we are.”
There have been months of rehearsing this play, which has been running on the West End since July 2016 and will have a new production in Australia next year, because a) it’s a dodgy production filled with special effects and b) everything about the New York production from the Lyric Theatre to the (count em) 18 members of the cast making their Broadway debut, is new.
To be sure, I am not quite sure in what manner they consider renaming the Lyric Theatre, a gigantic nearly 2,000 seater, makes it new. I’ve seen numerous plays there, including the Julie Taymor directed “Spiderman: Turn On The Lights”. and back in 2005 “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” and it looks much the same. It certainly has failed in its attempt to transport us to Hogwarts if that’s what its plan was, though the merchandize is excellent (all scarves and mugs, it’s nearly as good as “Puffs”), and they’ve fixed the problem with the tee shirt by putting the theatre and city address on the back. Previously known as Foxwoods Theatre, the Hilton Theatre and the Ford Center for the Performing Arts. there is nothing intimate about the Lyric, it is built to house the Wicked’s of the world, but it doesn’t have the feel of a different world the way the larger Gershwin does, maybe one reason why the Lyric has had such an impressive run of disastrous flops:
2000: Jesus Christ Superstar
2001: 42nd Street
2005: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang[April 28-Dec 31, 2005
2006: Hot Feet;[ Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Nov 8, 2006-Jan 7, 2007
2007: The Pirate Queen;Young Frankenstein
2010: Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
2014: On the Town
Not one of these were a hit, not even the sure thing “Young Frankenstein. “Harry Potter” should certainly change that, in the UK it costs $750 for a nosebleed, in the US ticket prices have been hard to figure out as the producers play hide and seek with the ticket brokers. This first performance ever in New York, went on sale at the the theatre itself Saturday, with people standing in line for eight,ten, hours to snare two tickets to the two part play’s suddenly apparated opening nights, last night and tonight.
I had a wonderful time but not as wonderful as September 2016 at the Palace (here) and this is some of my review:
“The crux of the story is that relationship between Harry Potter and Albus, his middle child.
“Albus and Scorpius first three years at Hogwarts, rush by in a brisk and beautiful scene, choreographed by movement director Steven Hoggett, who along with Illusions and Magic manager Jamie Harrison., has you suspending all disbelief instantly. It is all black cloaks being drawn and light effects changing time periods, This really is a very magical experience, myself and my friend, the brilliantly named Lucy Wagemaker, were both completely mesmerized, completely with the story. When Dementors (ghostly apparitions who suck your soul out of your body if they are pissed off) came down from the ceiling, Lucy nearly jumped out of her skin: the world of Potter stopped you from thinking too hard about what was real and what wasn’t. The Palace Theatre is a glorious room for just that, dating back to 1891 and teeming with ghosts itself, it has been home to stars as great as the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire, Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench (as Sally Bowles!). “Jesus Christ Superstar” premiered here in the early 70s and was followed by a nineteen year run for “Les Misérables” starting in 1985. Assume “Cursed” never leaves. The one problem the play will have when it inevitably opens on Broadway (my bet? 2018) will be that the Palace is of a piece with Hogwarts, they have history that can’t be repeated, I’d arrived in London a couple of hours earlier and was feeling a little loopy, and between the play and the theatre, it was all so transformative, as though I’d landed in the other world, and was watching the story unspool as some form of virtual reality. If what happens to me happens to you, and if you have as deep a love for Potter as I do, the effect is off the other, like entering a world where the fiction is in front of you, the magical world of Potter is real. My companion was the daughter of a friend I hadn’t seen in decades and it was very peculiar and moving and seemed to reflect the plays themes of time and space and family.
“The plot kicks in with the third year when a “Time Turner” (you can go to the past but only for five minutes) falls into the hands of the Ministry Of Magic, headed by Hermione Granger and comes to the attention of Amos Diggory who wants to use it to save his son Cedric, who died at the end of “Goblet Of Fire”, Albus and Amos’ niece Delphi, hatch a plot to go back in time and save the son. Scorpius join the duo as things go from bad to worse to much, much worse. Borrowing liberally from the “Back To The Future” movies, by the end of Part One, the changes to the past have lead to the return of Voldemort in the new present. If this sounds all a little fan fiction, it doesn’t play that way. With a story by Rowling, and Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, and directed by Tiffany, the trio are entirely expert even while Jack and John have never worked on this scale (43 character cast) before. John directed the big hit “Once” and wrote the play. The duo were the writers of the preteen vampire movie “Let The Right One In” -not a bad experience setting em up for this. ”
The problem then and now is that the play doesn’t have the language that great plays should have, it never translated to the written page. I wish Tom Stoppard had written it, because on a second viewing it is no “Arcadia”. I saw “Arcadia” at Lincoln Center three times in a year, the more I watched it, the more amazed I was. This is just the second time seeing “Cursed Child” and the magic has worn off a little. 18 months ago, I flew from New York to London to catch it in its natural habitat at the historic “Palace Theatre” off Shaftesbury Avenue. It was authenticity personified. The newly renovated Lyric is a huge disappointment, it is a Disneyfied version of the Palace. When it comes to Westminster versus Broadway, I am a Broadway guy except on this one occasion when it is self-evident that being there is being there.
Next, the shading, the coloring, is a little different: it is all gold and black and the stage itself (I can’t remember if this is true of the London production) exists in shadows. It is depressing, much like consciousness itself it is all white blinding lights followed by blackness.
In other words, “Harry Potter And The Cursed Child” the experience didn’t have a chance of living up to my expectations and therefore didn’t. Undoubtedly, if last night had been my first viewing ever I would have worshipped it, but the seams show a little the second time. I did enjoy Potter’s nightmares, where he is back with his Aunt Petunia more this time.
The performances were excellent, Anthony Boyle (who I just watched in “Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams”) has the best role, Scorpius Malfoy (Draco’s son) is just a wonderful character and it is hard to imagine anybody else playing that sweet gentle guy. And the rest of the original London cast has joined him, Sam Clemmett as Albus Potter, Jamie Parker as Harry, Alex Price as Draco Malfoy, Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger… most of whom won Olivier’s (the UK Tonys). It has a spell, it holds the spell, but a little like walking out of “Angels In America” into 2018 and you lose that original time and place effect, when you walk out of “Cursed Child” in London, you remain in Potterland on some level or the other, when you walk out onto Times Square the spell is broken.