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Harry Potter and the Cursory Reviews: New Play Conjures Up Suspense, Magic, Mirth

Enthusiastic reports of a magical night at the theater began streaming in Wednesday after the first performance of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” one of the most highly anticipated productions in London’s West End in years.

Previews began Tuesday at the Palace Theater and will continue for eight weeks until the official opening night of July 30. The play is in two parts, with the inaugural performance of part one on Tuesday evening and the second part set for Thursday.

Audience members took to Twitter to give the play a thumbs-up, with one commenting: “Literally the best live production I have ever seen in my life.” Another wrote: “VERY impressive magic happening on stage. Funny script.”

The first tranche of tickets for the Palace Theater run, which ends May 27, 2017, sold out within 24 hours of going on sale in October – unsurprisingly, given the legions of devoted fans around the world of the boy wizard whose adventures through seven books have also been turned into highly successful films. A spinoff movie, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” is set for release this fall.

In the run-up to the launch of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” Rowling had said that, “as a theatrical experience…it will be unlike anything people have seen before.” She also urged attendees via social media not to reveal plot details, and the hashtag #KeepTheSecrets featured heavily in tweets.

The play, directed by John Tiffany and written by Jack Thorne, is set 19 years after the last novel. Harry is working at the Ministry of Magic, and his son Albus is about to set off for Hogwarts, accompanied by Rose Granger-Weasley, the daughter of Harry’s friends Ron and Hermione, and Scorpius Malfoy, son of his frequent antagonist Draco.

Christine Jones’ stage design is simple: a Gothic arched hallway that serves as the backdrop for multiple locations, including King’s Cross Station, the main hall at Hogwarts, and the corridors of the Ministry of Magic. Old-fashioned traveling trunks are strewn about the stage. Neil Austin’s imaginative use of lighting plays a strong part in creating the atmosphere, while old-fashioned stage effects recreate the wizardry generated by computer effects in the movies.

Signs at the theater warned the audience that the production contained “theatrical smoke and fog effects, pyrotechnics, high-intensity flashing lighting effects,” adding that “the auditorium lighting will be extinguished for short periods of time.”

Initial reaction from audience members suggests that Thorne’s script delivers the humor and plot twists that have made the books beloved of millions of readers worldwide. Many of those in the audience Tuesday evening were Americans. One of the hotly debated questions before the performance was whether Albus would be assigned to Slytherin House instead of Gryffindor when he arrives at Hogwarts.

About a quarter of the 40-strong cast and several leading characters, including Hermione, are from ethnic-minority backgrounds. Rowling called those objecting to the casting of black actress Noma Dumezweni as the grown-up Hermione “a bunch of racists,” and tweeted that “Rowling loves black Hermione.”

Almost inevitably, the production was met with a standing ovation. The only reported mishap during the performance was when a live owl escaped backstage.

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