This is no time for bogus expressions of sophistication. So, let’s just say: Hooray! With “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the Boy Who Lived has finally come to Broadway, bringing enchantment to a world that could really use a little magic right now.
The show’s savvy producers have done a wonderful job refurbishing the vintage Lyric Theater (circa 1903), both inside and out. The sculpture of a giant black raven’s wing hangs over the theater marquee, and the iconic image of a boy crouched in a winged nest can be seen perched on the roof. They should also have spread new pavement out front, because there’s going to be a lot of foot traffic on 43rd Street over the next few years.
Inside, the walls are painted “raven plume,” while a midnight-blue carpet is emblazoned with the Hogwarts crest. How about ravens? You want ravens? Just look up. Ravens! (And how about buying stuff? You want to buy stuff? Check out the lobby.)
Once you get past the sensory (and commercial) blandishments and the show begins, it’s clear that director John Tiffany and his wizard designers have answered the big question: What can the theater do for the story of Harry Potter that the books and movie treatments haven’t done? In a word, the theater has brought its own brand of wizardry to the material. Visually and aurally, the show presents a panorama of dazzling effects that draw audible gasps from the audience.
For a show that isn’t a musical, the production pulses with action thanks to movement designer Steven Hoggett’s inspired work. At King’s Cross Station in London, where the show opens, travelers march across the stage in formation, using their suitcases for multiple purposes that feel like coordinated dance moves. Their regimented movements also advance the plot premise of playwright Jack Thorne (based on an original story by J.K. Rowling, Tiffany and Thorne) that the world we are about to enter is a predetermined, immutable reality fixed in time. A bit fascistic, to tell the truth.
Among the travelers rushing about the station are Harry Potter (all grown up and played with grown-up authority by Jamie Parker) and his wife, Ginny (Poppy Miller). These doting parents are seeing off their son, Albus (a winning performance from Sam Clemmett) as he heads off to his first year of school at Hogwarts. And as he himself was advised almost 20 years ago, Harry tells his son to run straight at a brick wall: “Don’t stop and don’t be scared you’ll crash into it; that’s very important.” That’s only the first scene, and already this show feels wondrous.
Also at the station seeing off their own child, Rose (Susan Heyward), are Hermione Granger (Noma Dumezweni, who grows and grows in this role) and Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley, just as we’ve pictured him). Once on the Hogwarts Express, Albus meets Scorpius Malfoy (a brilliant Anthony Boyle), son of Harry Potter’s archenemy, Draco Malfoy (another classy performance from Alex Price). But unlike — or in spite of — their fathers, these two become fast friends.
And now that the stage is set and the principals have been introduced, relax and marvel at the wonders that greet the kids at Hogwarts.
The story is a brand-new one, but there are plenty of familiar pleasures. The talking portraits, for one thing. There’s a wonderful scene in which that long-gone sage, Albus Dumbledore (Edward James Hyland) leans out of his own portrait to speak to Harry. Those alarmingly mobile staircases also play a central role and are even more fun than the ones in the movies, because there’s always a chance that someone will go flying around a curve. Best of all, there’s a set of bookcases in the Hogwarts library that keep swallowing and spitting out unwary readers.
But for all its inventive stagecraft devices, the show has a plot that really works as an extension of the Potter saga. You’ll remember that young Cedric Diggory was killed in the fourth year of this continuing tale. Here, his father, Amos Diggory (Hyland), who’s living at St. Oswald’s Home for Old Witches and Wizards, is still grieving for his son. It gives Albus a brave but not so brilliant idea.
If you want to know what happens next, you’ll have to come back for Part 2. But suffice it to say that there’s an obsession with time, and especially the yearning to go back in time to correct a person’s mistakes, that is central to Rowling’s mythology. It also emerges in the dynamic of sons who follow in their fathers’ footsteps, repeating, rather than repairing, their past sins — no matter how hard the boys fight for their independence.
That central theme interlocks with the good-versus-evil dynamic that underpins all seven — and now eight — chapters of Rowling’s pop masterpiece. We love the swirling black cloaks and conical hats of the witches and wizards, the shroud-like garments of the Dementors and the marvels of time travel. But most of all, we love seeing theater that shows us the true magic of great storytelling.