It’s great to see a tenant in the beautiful but underutilized Little Shubert. But how long “Potted Potter” will remain in residence depends on how Harry Potter fans, big and little, feel about British schoolboy humor. Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, who wrote and perform this parody, promise to deliver “the unauthorized Harry experience” by racing through all seven books in “70 hilarious minutes.” Actually, they don’t. What they do offer is a goofy comedy routine in which an earnest teacher figure tries to present the series highlights while being undermined by a naughty-boy character who hasn’t read the books.
After premiering in London in 2006, “Potted Potter” has toured almost nonstop, picking up critical kudos and spinning off other properties like “Potted Pirates” and “Potted Panto.” So there’s definitely an audience for the comic sensibility of this cheeky British duo.
Curiously, the lengthy set-up for the show is based on dashing the expectations of the audience.
Jefferson (Jeff) Turner, the sober thesp who is introduced as the serious “Harry Potter expert,” dons the boy wizard’s distinctive spectacles and dives into Book #1, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” But Daniel (Dan) Clarkson — the tall, uncoordinated, Jerry Lewis-like clown whose job it was to set the stage and hire “twenty of the finest actors that Broadway has to offer” to play the more than 300 characters in J.K. Rowling’s beloved books — has squandered the show’s budget on dumb toys and flimsy set pieces that have nothing to do with the world of the books.
So instead of meeting Harry and friends on the magical trip to Hogwarts, the kiddos in the house (along with their grown-up wranglers) must be entertained by Jeff’s juvenile antics and Dan’s sputtering outrage at his mischievous tricks.
Children love anarchic characters, so Dan does have his fans. But it isn’t until Book #4, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” that this rascal wins over his audience. That’s the novel that opens with the Quidditch World Cup, the ultimate version of the competitive game played between rival factions at the school for young wizards. So Jeff is forced to capitulate to Dan’s entreaties by letting him bump up the house lights and stage the game with the audience.
The children in the house clearly love joining the teams of Gryffindor and Slytherin and playing this interactive game with Jeff. But when you come down to it, batting around a plastic ball (which Slava, the Russian clown, already turned into a work of Off Broadway performance art) isn’t really much of a return on the emotional investment.
It’s bad enough that “Potted Potter” had no intention of bringing the books to life. But even on its own comic terms, it’s very thin on imagination. Most disappointing of all, whatever hint of Harry Potter’s amazing adventures does emerge seems to have been inspired by the film adaptations of the books — and not the books themselves.