Sunday, June 16, 2024

$68 Million “Harry Potter” Dazzles Broadway Like it Or Not, Breaks Curse at Former “Spider Man” Theater


Seven years ago when it was called the Foxwoods Theater (briefly) the musical “Spider Man: Turn off the Dark” put a curse on the Lyric Theater. Actors flew around and fell, or hit pieces of the stage, and wound up in the hospital. An actress flew around and got stuck dangling over the audience. The $75 million show became notorious for accidents.

Restored to The Lyric, the theater had better luck tonight with a $68 million show, not a musical and not really a play but a theatrical experience that includes flying and all kinds of magnificent illusions and stunts that came off without a hitch– at least to the layman’s eye. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is dazzling (if a little incoherent and way too long) but mostly no one got hurt.

Quite the opposite. Imported from the UK as part of the Harry Potter juggernaut, “Cursed Child” is a musical without songs. That is, in two parts totaling six hours, there are moments when the John Tiffany-Steven Hoggett directed enterprise feels like it’s coming to a song and then doesn’t. Instead, there’s music by Imogen Heap that begs for lyrics or someone to take the mic. But it’s a fake out and then we’re back to the action.

There is LOTS of action. If you love Harry Potter, know the books, movies, and ancillary materials, this is the show for you. If you don’t, you must do some homework and read the extensive notes in the Playbill before accepting this challenge. “Cursed Child” is basically the 9th and 10th movie from the 8th non existent book: it’s Rowling’s prequel and sequel to her series at the same time, recalling glorious moments from the past and simultaneously building a present and future for Potter-philes.

Set 22 years after the end of the last story, “Cursed Child” presents Harry, Ron and Hermione, and Draco Malfoy as adults with teenagers who are attending Hogwarts. Ron and Hermione are married. Ron’s sister Ginny is married to Harry. Draco’s wife has died, and he’s got a son who looks just like him. Who is the cursed child? It could be any of theirs, and maybe one another but I don’t want to give anything away.

Rowling has attempted to make “Cursed Child” an addition to the Potter canon of magic and wizardry and also be about family, fathers and sons, and fraught relations. She sets all that against time travel, and time warp travel, and a lot of other stuff that doesn’t come up around the usual dinner table including witches and monsters.

Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. A lot of it is repetitive and feels a little contrived to stretch this thing into two long Broadway tickets. The central drama is not really that compelling, and often you feel like you’re watching the theatrical version of a movie. If you want real drama, the kind that constitutes Best Play nominations, this year it’s all in revivals like “Angels in America” or “Three Tall Women” (which I found very depressing, but that’s another story).

The “Cursed Child” plays are resounding because of the exceptional production design. From top to bottom, “Cursed Child” is miraculous. This team, led by Christine Jones, Katrina Lindsay, Neil Austin, Gareth Fry, and Jamie Harrison deserves a special Tony. Their whole accomplishment is equal I would say to “War Horse.” It’s stunning. You won’t believe the rapid costume changes, the entrances and exits, and — to belabor a point– the sense of magic. It never stops.

Of course, the real credit goes to director John Tiffany, who keeps these “trains” running on time, and Steven Hoggett, who continues to be the genius of onstage group movement. There are 40 people in this cast, and there’s never a second that doesn’t seem as fluidly constructed as a ballet.

As far as the Tony Awards go, the only problem for this production is that it’s an ensemble piece. None of the actors can beat Andrew Garfield or Nathan Lane from “Angels in America” or Glenda Jackson from “Three Tall Women.” All of them are terrific, but I really loved Byron Jennings as Severus Snape. et al, and Geraldine Hughes as Professor McGonagall.

In the audience: lots of familiar faces including Emma Thompson, Liev Schreiber, James Monroe Inglehart, Bob Balaban with wife Lynn and daughter Hazel, Glenn Close, Cherry Jones, and “The Flash” himself, Ezra Miller, who so nice to kids in the theater and outside on the street who recognized him. Between shows we went over to famed Joe Allen to catch our respective breaths and brace ourselves for part two. Highly recommended! Plus, we ran into Colm Meaney (fresh from “The Iceman Cometh”), and Debra Monk (just finished a new Billy Crystal movie) among others. Talk about value added!

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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