Like many children, Harry Potter grew up with age. J.K. Rowling’s later novels in this series came out twice or more than the first. The peak of the length of the film version fell on the adaptation of the last volume of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”, divided into two parts with a total 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 sumptuously remodeled Lyric Theater. Also split into two parts, the overall experience lasted over five hours.
But now Harry seems to shrink. After the close of the pandemic (and reports of production cost issues), The Cursed Child is back, shorter and more streamlined, with two pieces shrinking into one and a third shorter in length. The creators are silent about the mechanics of this revision; call it “Harry Potter and the Mysterious Cut”. I’m guessing someone pointed a wand at the published script and shouted “Brevioso!”
The new version, which opened on Tuesday, does seem smaller – its themes are harsher, its concession to fandom is more egregious. But in Tiffany’s production and in Stephen Hoggett’s production with the inherent score of Imogen Heap, he remains as sharp as a diamond in the production and dazzling in his visual imagination, as magical as any spell or potion.
The essence of the plot has not changed. The Cursed Child still opens where the Deathly Hallows epilogue ends, 19 years after the climactic Battle of Hogwarts. Albus Potter (James Romney) – the second son of Harry Potter (Steve Haggard, replacing James Snyder at the show I attended) and Ginny Potter (Diane Davis) – and Rose Granger-Weasley (Nadia Brown), go to this school of witchcraft and wizardry. daughter of Hermione Granger (Jenny Jules) and Ron Weasley (David Abeles).
Aboard the Hogwarts Express, Albus meets Scorpius Malfoy (Brady Dalton Richards), the son of Harry’s former nemesis Draco Malfoy (Aaron Bartz), who offers him sweets. The growing friendship between Albus and Scorpius frustrates both of their fathers, complicating an already tense relationship and endangering the entire wizarding world. Because what is Harry Potter without the threat of the apocalypse and the occasional chocolate frog?
The spectacle of the spectators begins long before the lights go out, through the luxurious lobby to the auditorium. Each carpet, curtain, lamp and wallpaper strip will help you immerse yourself in the world of Potter. This is a miracle of the imagination, and more shows should be thinking about extending the design beyond the stage. Even a reminder to wear a mask is presented as a boarding announcement on the Hogwarts Express.
In the beginning, this train seems to have been converted into a high-speed one. Everyone was moving and talking so fast – Jules and Richards were almost unintelligible – it bothered me for a short time that this new version was just the old one, played at 1.5x speed. Once I counted two seconds in a row during which nothing happened on stage. Just once.
However, there are excisions, most of which are so surgical you will never notice, although I missed the beloved Hogwarts caretaker Hagrid a little. Other changes are more poignant, such as the portrayal of the relationship between Albus and Scorpius as overtly romantic, which has the indirect effect of smoothing out the conflict between father and son. Gone are the episodes of dreams that sustained the play’s mournful tone and provided much of its exposure.
Lacking much of that context, the show is now harder to recommend for those new to Potteralia. (Should someone else stay?) The loudest reaction I heard came when a character declared herself Dolores Umbridge, a revelation that means nothing without knowledge of books and films. Luckily, I brought my 8-year-old daughter with me, who has made her own butter beer and firmly identifies as a Gryffindor.
During the intermission, she turned to me with her eyes, bright and round, like golden informers. “This film has great special effects!” she said. She often refers to performances as films – a great way to troll her theater critic mother. However, I could not completely disagree. The original Cursed Child, with its exuberant length and hyper-focus – for better or worse – on the emotional lives of its characters, seemed overtly theatrical, ripping a veritable piece of dramatic art out of the widely popular franchise. This new version remains delightfully interesting, but like the film adaptation, it is a more obvious attempt to cash in on Pottermania.
However, there are tons of films – even those that have an extravagant CG budget like the Harry Potter films – that don’t even come close to the magic of Tiffany’s production, enhanced by Christine Jones’ sets, Katrina Lindsay costumes, Neil Austin lighting and the sound of Gareth Fry. … Jamie Harrison’s phoenix and unicorn horn illusions are absolutely astounding. (Were the fire marshals keen to endorse the pyrotechnics of this show?) During the fast-track start, I grimly wondered if the show could now exist as just another theme park attraction. This is more than that. Plus, three and a half hours of charm is still a hell of a ride.
Harry potter and the cursed child
At the Lyric Theater in Manhattan; harrypottertheplay.com. The duration of the performance is 3 hours 30 minutes.