by Michael Bracken
Harry Potter Lite. It’s understandable. If you’re going to spend $68 million, the highest capitalization ever for a non-musical on Broadway, you want to reach a wide audience. Wow them with the familiar. Don’t make them think too much. But rumor has it the Harry Potter franchise (seven books and the movies based on them) did quite well in the revenue department, as J.K. Rowling let her exquisite, intelligent, and seemingly limitless imagination create a three-dimensional universe that was nothing short of magical. Whatever.
That imagination is much more constrained within the confines of the Lyric Theatre, where Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,Parts One and Two is in residence. Of course, Rowling didn’t exactly write Cursed Child. Per the program, the play is by Jack Thorne, “based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany.” Perhaps it’s a case of too many cooks; it’s certainly a case of looking backward rather than forward. Set nineteen years after the last novel, the play leans heavily on pre-existing Potter staples, both in the present (actual and might have been) and the past. Much of the action takes place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Britain’s best wizards are trained.
Time travel and dreams augment the plot, showcasing just about the whole Potter crew. In addition to Harry’s wife, Ginny (Poppy Miller), and his now-married friends, Hermione (Noma Dumezweni) and Ron (Paul Thornley), we see former Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore (Edward James Hyland), Hogwarts groundskeeper Hagrid (Brian Abraham), Professors McGonagall (Geraldine Hughes) and Snape (Byron Jennings), and Cedric Diggory (Benjamin Wheelwright), against whom Harry competed in the Triwizard Tournament. Harry’s extended family is also on call. Details like floo powder (how wizards travel) and Track 9 ¾ (embarkation point for Hogwarts Express) function as easy badges of authenticity.
Harry (Jamie Parker) and Ginny have three children, the middle child being Albus (Sam Clemmett). Albus finds it hard to be the son of the most famous wizard in the world, and Harry just doesn’t know what to do with the boy. They yell a lot, and Parker’s brow is permanently set on “knitted.” It’s a one-note song for much of Part One. (The story is presented in two parts of about two and a half hours each.)
But it serves as a good jumping off point to thrust the plot forward. The tension between Albus and his dad becomes so intense that Albus, after swiping a Time-Turner, embarks on a journey back to the Triwizard Tournament, which Harry won at the expense of Cedric Diggory’s life. Taking his cue from Cedric’s father and his cousin, Delphi (Jessie Fisher), Albus wrongfully blames Harry for Cedric’s death, which was the handiwork of the Dark Lord, Voldemort. Suffice it to say, as every wizard worth his salt knows, trying to change the past is looking for trouble, and Albus gets more than his fair share.
Albus is accompanied in his travels by his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle), son of Draco Malfoy, Harry’s nemesis back in the day. Unlike his notorious father, Scorpius is good-natured and principled. There’s friction between Scorpius and Draco that mirrors, to a much lesser extent, the Harry/Albus relationship. Scorpius and Albus are two of a kind, outsiders looking in. Watching their friendship develop and grow is one of the play’s more enjoyable aspects, although at times it’s a little too sticky-sweet.
Christine Jones’s handsome set is dominated by rich wooden staircases on wheels that get whirled around, allowing Hogwarts students to meet and miss each other. Illusions and Magic creator Jamie Harrison’s craft is precise and impressive.
Director John Tiffany keeps things moving but can’t impose much substance on the drama. Among the large cast, Boyle especially stands out as real and likable, even when he has to deliver soppy dialogue. As Delphi, Fisher nicely takes her time revealing the layers underneath her surface. Dumezweni and Thornley are a perfect couple, he even goofier and she even brainier than they were in their Hogwarts days.
Open-ended run at the Lyric Theatre (214 West 43rd Street). https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/us/
Part One: two hours and forty minutes with one intermission. Part Two: two hours and thirty-five minutes with one intermission.