If you could change the past, would you?
It’s a provocative question, and one you’ll be ruminating on long after viewing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two, which officially opened Sunday night on Broadway following an Olivier Award-winning run on London’s West End since 2016.
The script was released in conjunction with the original West End production, so Harry Potter fans the world over could read the new installment if they so chose. It was a new tale springing from the minds of J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, which was turned into a script by Thorne.
The story is fairly complex — probably a bit too dark and complicated for the very youngest Potter fans among us — and wrestles with themes of paying for our father’s sins, living in the shadow of our parents, and the fact that history is cyclical and tends to repeat itself. Oh yeah, and time travel. Lots and lots of time travel.
The play centers on Albus Severus Potter (Sam Clemmett), the second son of Harry Potter (Jamie Parker) and Ginny Weasley (Poppy Miller), as well as his fellow outcast best friend Scorpius Malfoy (true cast standout Anthony Boyle), son of Draco (Alex Price), with action that takes place primarily during the boys’ fourth year at Hogwarts. I’m trying to be respectfully vague here as fans have been bombarded with the phrase and hashtag #KeepTheSecrets in an attempt to preserve the twists for those that prefer to go in blind, but both guys are struggling with living under their fathers’ legacies, and after a particularly rough few weeks, decide to pave their own way forward by…attempting to change the past and rewrite history. Things obviously descend from there.
There was a little controversy when the script book was first released as some Potter fans felt that the story betrayed the original characters, particularly Hermione (Noma Dumezweni). Now age 40, Harry’s too mean! Hermione’s too shrill! Ron (Paul Thornley) is…well, Ron is fine.
I’m genuinely thrilled to report — speaking as someone who enjoyed reading the script but thought it presented as a little fan fic-y — the story plays much, much better on stage than on the page. For one thing, the five-hour, two-part show is a massive technical achievement. The Lyric Theatre on Broadway has been renovated, and it’s a true 360-degree experience.
Throughout the show, primarily in Part One, there are audience gasps and applause breaks for some of the coolest wizard tricks the team manages to bring to thrilling life.
Throughout the show, primarily in Part One, there are audience gasps and applause breaks for some of the coolest wizard tricks the team thrillingly manages to bring to life, from incredible physical transformations aided by Polyjuice Potion to terrifying floating Dementors. In fact, there is one piece of stage magic regarding bodies disappearing into nothingness as they are “sucked” through a telephone that will continue to gnaw at me as I try to puzzle out just how on Earth they possibly pulled it off. Major, major kudos to director John Tiffany, lighting designer Neil Austin, and Illusions and Magic guru Jamie Harrison for taking something that existed solely in imaginations and turning it into art that is real and live — particularly impressive without the benefit of movie CGI.
Elsewhere, the play follows in Rowling’s footsteps, both in length (the aforementioned two installments) as well as pacing. There is a lot of story here, with near-constant twists and turns and a ton of characters. It can all be a bit hard to keep up with. Part One is probably stronger than Part Two, with the former having the benefit of more “cool” moments of magic, time travel and mood-setting. Two, on the other hand, suffers a bit when it leaves wizard hijinks behind and zeroes in on the slightly repetitive and under-written emotional beats between fathers and sons, before rallying for an appropriately dark and stunning ending.
Of course, audiences are obviously bringing great expectations to the work, given the beloved (an understatement) films and books. Cursed Child goes out of its way to differentiate itself: The music, by Imogen Heap(!), is ominous and suspenseful, but it’s not the John Williams theme you’re so used to. Yes, you’ll see fan-favorite characters like Dumbledore and Hagrid, but thankfully, no one is doing just their best impression of the movies. The play its own thing, and it’s easy to see actors rotating into this work and making it their own for a solid run over the next decade or more.
When my audience made its way toward the lobby after both parts, the overwhelming response to the most expensive non-musical play ever produced on Broadway seemed to be stunned wonder. It’s a sensory overload that will have you hoping against hope that after all this time, your Hogwarts acceptance letter may still be just around the corner.