Theatre yesterday and today



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Back from a week of London theatregoing (nine shows in six days) and it hardly takes a wizard to report that the magic that makes up Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildParts One and Two, currently playing to sold-out audiences in London's West End—will be the next big thing whenever it arrives on Broadway. And by big, I mean Hamilton-big. There is no doubt it will settle in for profitable and long run, delighting thousands upon thousands of children and adults. For what J.K Rowling, the progenitor of all-things Harry Potter and her fellow British collaborators, the playwright and screenwriter Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, the award-winning director of the musical Once, have pulled off is an ambitious first-rate entertainment that scores on nearly every front.

Jamie Parker as the grown-up Harry Potter.

Not satisfied to offer a two-a-half-hour show filled with wondrous delights and stagecraft, the creators went for a Nicholas Nickleby-induced-length, producing two plays, both of which must be seen for the full splendor of the endeavor. Buying a ticket only for Part Two (though certainly an option), makes little sense as the set-up in Part One is necessary and definitely not-to-missed. Splitting the show into two parts is by no means a trick on the part of the producers, either. I never felt as if I was being manipulated and pulled into something that didn't already have me at "Hello."

The button handed out as you leave Part One exiting the theatre.

I won't even deign to enter into the territory of what the plot is, except to say that it concerns an adult Harry Potter, puzzled over the years by his tenuous relationship with Albus, his middle child. Rowling makes this father-son pairing edgy, tough and even brutal, not settling for coziness or complacency—even willing to push herself (and her loyal fans) to places they may not even be emotionally ready. How can you not applaud this kind of testing of one's brand? How many successful artists lose their way once fame and money roll in at a rate immeasurable by any existing standards? It takes someone like Rowling, secure in herself and her talent to steer the right course. This is not to take away anything from Thorne and Tiffany's contributions to the Cursed Child, which by all evidence is enormous. Rowling has entrusted them with her "children", as it were, and the three of them have managed to collectively produce something exceptional and commercial. It's a rare achievement.

As she has proven with her previous seven Harry Potter books, Ms. Rowling is a master storyteller. She has the ability to effortlessly weave dozens of characters, often with complex and mixed motivations, along with terms like "Muggles" and "mudblood " and never put a reader in mind they have gotten involved with something more than what they originally bargained for. If anything, you fall into her world and she makes you both a believer and a willing participant to all that follows. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is faithful to her vision. The Potter clan, his friends (and enemies), remain her creations and hers alone, lucky for us.

Fans of the Potter books are getting a continuation of the story of characters as beloved to their generation as those of Dorothy and her compatriots in The Wizard of Oz were in theirs. Only we are living in 2016, where it seemingly feels as if anything in our creative imaginations is producible on stage right now. I can't tell you how many times my jaw dropped at what was happening in front of me. The expression "you won't believe your eyes" is apt here. The delight it brought forth is something that can only be described as experiencing close to a second childhood. You are left with the feeling of fireworks going off overhead, oohing and ahhing as if you've never seen anything like it before—only in this case you have never seen anything like it before!

For that, Tiffany's work as director must be singled out. He spins as many plates in the air as that guy on the old Ed Sullivan Shows used to, with total control over the myriad of plot points and parade of characters that appear. There is extraordinary movement to behold, choreographed by Steven Hoggett, that will bring to mind the work on which he teamed for The Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime on Broadway. The costumes by Katrina Lindsay, the sets by Christine Jones and the lighting by Neil Austin are all pitch perfect. I was particularly taken by the sound design, possibly the best I have ever heard for a show anywhere. Credit Gareth Frye, who would be my go-to guy if I ever was in need of sound this complex and so clear to the ear. Frye's name may be called out next June at the 2017 Tony Awards, as he is the person responsible for The Encounter, currently playing at the John Golden Theatre. Although I have yet to see it, he is from all I've "heard," the man of the hour.

And praise for the casting, not only in finding wonderful young actors to play the offspring of characters like Harry, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy, but also for a color-blind sensibility. Who says everyone in these stories need be all-white?

Lastly, a shout out to the Palace Theatre itself where all this magic is taking place. Of all my visits to London, this was my first time in this theatre. Here's a photo I took from out front last Sunday afternoon:

Built in 1891, the theatre has a baroquely fascinating exterior and interior. While inside, even after a multi-million-dollar renovation a dozen years ago, watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child may make you feel as if you are actually at Hogwarts.

So if you visit London soon, find a way to see it. I only waited 2 ½ hours on the cancellation line, and wound up with J.K. Rowling’s personal house seats. No, really… I did. And if I didn’t, may Lord Voldemort himself come back from the dead and do what he will with me. That is, if Voldemort is really dead ...

Ron Fassler's Up in the Cheap Seats, a historical memoir of Broadway, will be coming soon from Griffith Moon Publishing: