When it was announced that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” would open at the Lyric Theatre in 2018, I confidently expected that the, um, curse that seemed to doom all shows in the cavernous space to financial-flop status would finally be lifted. The show is a commercial juggernaut, after all, and all things Harry Potter remain a global obsession. Lines form daily outside the new merchandise store on Fifth Avenue.
But the producers’ decision to cut the original two-part show down to just one part seemed to suggest that finances were proving trickier on Broadway — despite the show’s acclaim and its best play Tony win. Although they cited the pandemic in the announcement of the new version, the London, Melbourne and Hamburg productions will continue to perform the original version, indicating that the higher costs of Broadway production, and perhaps Americans’ attention spans, might also factor into the decision.
In any case, the immensely cheering if not altogether surprising news is that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” 2.0 (or do I mean “.5”?) is every bit as rewarding as the original version. My lack of surprise derives from the theatrical expertise, on every level, evinced by the creators of the two-part version. Here was, and here is, a show employing inspired imagination, and not just technical gadgetry, to achieve its thrilling effects. Both epic in its scope, as its characters vault between the past and the present in a battle between the forces of good and evil, and movingly intimate in delineating the troubled father-son relationship at its core, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” remains a theatrical accomplishment of a very rare order.
Much hard work has gone into scaling down a show that ran a total of roughly seven hours into one that comes in at half that. Doing much of the heavy lifting, I surmise, was the show’s author, Jack Thorne, with the assistance of the director, John Tiffany. But they have illustrated their talents as veritable theatrical magicians by allowing little of that hard work to show. Potterheads may notice where subplots have been trimmed or eliminated, but the many-tentacled narrative remains virtually the same.
And there is a copious amount of that narrative, even at a reduced running time. This version does require a more concentrated attention on behalf of audiences; the telescoping of the play’s events make the texture a little more dense. Let your mind drift even momentarily, and you may have trouble figuring out where the characters are, and when.
The plot centers on the attempts of young Albus Potter (James Romney), son of Harry (Steve Haggard at the reviewed performance), and his newly acquired best friend, Scorpius Malfoy (Brady Dalton Richards), son of Harry’s former foe, Draco (Aaron Bartze), to change events in the past. Their mission: to avert the death of Cedric, one of Harry’s old classmates at Hogwarts Academy, by traveling back in time, eventually in the company of one of Cedric’s relatives, Delphi (Lauren Nicole Cipoletti).
The task proves trickier than they expect, with unforeseen ramifications that reverberate in the present and the past — there is more than one time-traveling journey, although the details of these voyages are too complex to detail. Some of the scenes from these leaps into history have been curtailed or eliminated, but the loss does not feel significant to the storyline.
And the production retains virtually all of the original’s bedazzlements, from wand battles to levitating Dementors, to quicksilver character transformations. These remain wonderfully executed, with a combination of stage trickery and technical wizardry but also pure theatrical invention. Often the effects are achieved with fairly minimal means, with the ingenious lighting design of Neil Austin ably abetting the work of Jamie Harrison, in charge of “illusions & magic.” You are too caught up in the events whirling by to wonder how they did that — or to care.
I confess my biggest fear about the reduced version would be that the fun and games would be retained at the expense of the nuanced depiction of the relationship between Harry and his son. But to their credit, again, the show’s creators must have realized that this strand of the plot is integral to the audience’s engagement. And so nothing has been lost here: Albus’s insecurity at being the son of a legendary man is still delineated with fine detail, and as Albus, Romney gives a performance of compelling emotional fervor. As Harry, Haggard is excellent at revealing how difficult it is for him to see how deeply his storied past has affected his son.
The rapport between Albus and Scorpius, who is given a wryly funny hangdog edge by Richards, is if anything enhanced in this version, since some of the diversions on the edge of their adventures have been trimmed back. Watching this friendship, between two boys bullied for different reasons — Harry due to his mediocre wizarding skills compared to his father; Scorpius because rumors continue to swirl that he is in fact the son of the arch-villain of the Potter canon, Voldemort — brings a layer of warmth to the proceedings that gives the production another emotional focus.
A couple of significant lines of dialogue have been added to the moving coda, a scene of hard-won reconciliation between Harry and Albus. Harry speaks of the importance of building “a better world,” which seems a conscious nod to the social upheaval of the last few years. More surprisingly, the dialogue has been tweaked to suggest just how deep Albus’s affection for Scorpius has become. Emboldened by his father’s confessions of his own struggles, Albus forthrightly tells him that Scorpius is “the most important person in my life,” and that “he might always be the most important.” This seems to be a gentle indication that Albus may be on the path to discovering, or acknowledging, his homosexuality.
I could, of course, be reading too much into this confession, but, judging by the audience reactions around me (I overheard the little girl behind me whisper, in what seemed like pleasant surprise, “He’s gay!”), I’m definitely not the only one doing so.
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” reopened at the Lyric Theatre on Dec. 7, 2021.
Producers: Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender and Harry Potter Theatrical Productions.
Creative: Written by Jack Thorne; Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany; Music by Imogen Heap; Music arranged by Imogen Heap and Martin Lowe; Directed by John Tiffany; Movement Director: Steven Hoggett; Scenic Design by Christine Jones; Costume Design by Katrina Lindsay; Lighting Design by Neil Austin; Sound Design by Gareth Fry; Video Design by Finn Ross and Ash Woodward; Illusions & Magic by Jamie Harrison; Original Special Effects Designer: Jeremy Chernick.
Cast: David Abeles, Kevin Rico Angulo, Oge Agulué, Aaron Bartz, Nadia Brown, Michela Cannon, Will Carlyon, Lauren Nicole Cipoletti, Judith Lightfoot Clarke, Diane Davis, Ted Deasy, Steve Haggard, Ben Horner, Edward James Hyland, Jax Jackson, Jenny Jules, Jack Koenig, Dan Piering, Kevin Matthew Reyes, Brady Dalton Richards, Antoinette Robinson, James Romney, Stephen Spinella and Karen Janes Woditsch.