I’ve seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (part 1) and I have thoughts. Part 2 thoughts are in blue for Ravenclaw.
I am a massive Potterphile and have been since I first read books 1-3 in 1999. When she was in first grade, my Kid came home with a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that she found in her classroom library. “Look, Daddy!” She said. “They had this book you like in my classroom library! I brought it home for you!”
I was offended. Yes, my husband also loves Harry Potter. But I loved it first, I love it more, and we own that book, goddammit.
When she asked permission to read it, we said it was fine, figuring she wouldn’t be able to understand it and she’d put it down.
She loved it.
When she asked to read Chamber of Secrets, we said, “Sure!” After all, those books get harder as Harry ages (which is brilliant), so a six-year-old will just get frustrated and put the books down, and she’ll come back to them when she’s older.
Then we had to make a rule that she couldn’t read Prisoner of Azkaban until she was 8. By now, she’s read all seven books at least 5 times. She knows the names of the chapters. She owns a stuffed Crookshanks and a pygmy puff, and we had a Potter-themed birthday party when she turned ten. She’s seen Puffs twice.
All of this to say that when Cursed Child came to America and tickets went on sale four days before the Kid’s 14th birthday, it seemed like a sign. We got my parents to chip in, and we bought the tickets. In October. For now.
When I read the play, (which I did as soon as it was published–at that point we didn’t know if it would ever come to America, and who knows when I’ll get to London?) I wasn’t impressed. It was fine, but it didn’t feel like a JK Rowling book.
Seeing the play is a whole different thing.
Now, I’m not going to spoil anything about the play itself, but I am going to talk about my experience, so if you really want to enter that theater without knowing ANYTHING, you should stop reading now. Just know that I think it’s worth it.
The theater is an experience from the moment you walk in. Of course there’s merch–lots and lots of merch. They renovated the entire theater, so there are wizardy touches everywhere–sconces and lamps and the way the bar is designed. The coat room is called a cloak room and I found that really funny, for some reason.
The Lyric has always been a beautiful (and huge) theater, and it still is. I believe they added seats somehow in this renovation, so it’s really, really big. It also has a long entryway because the theater is really on 43rd street but the entry is on 42nd street (a more prestigious address, especially back in the day when it was built), so entering is an experience in which you are drawn into what is actually the main lobby–a three story space that is hexagonal (I think–I can count sides tonight if that’s important to anyone). (I didn’t. You’ll have to count for yourself if you care.) You walk into a two-story lobby with shops around and a large split staircase to one side that leads down to another lobby with bathrooms, or up to a balcony that leads to the mezzanine and then up further to the balcony. There are bars on all the levels, and tons and tons (and tons) of people.
The merch is not bad. There’s your typical HP stuff (there’s a Ravenclaw shirt I have my eye on), some new wands (belonging to newly introduced characters from the play) and of course merch specific to Cursed Child. They have lovely stuffed owls, too. The play-specific merch changes for Part 2, so if there’s something you really want at the first show, you should get it. The general HP stuff in the 42nd street lobby is always there, and I was told that shop is accessible whenever the box office is open, so if you’re looking for a new house scarf, you can stop in any time.
Disappointingly, they did not get permission from Warner Bros to sell any of the branded foods. There is no butterbeer. There are no chocolate frogs. Not an Every Flavor Bean in sight, even.
Now to the play itself (again, no spoilers about the story itself, but slight spoilers in the form of mentioning specific elements of the Wizarding World that appear in the play.) (I have reviewed these in the spirit of Keep the Secrets, and there’s nothing I say here that hasn’t already been covered in published interviews.) It’s magnificent. They brought over all the principals from the original production in London and they are wonderful. The acting is incredible. The stagecraft is brilliant. They have managed to reproduce things from the Wizarding World that we have come to expect–things like moving staircases and wizard duels and travel by Floo Powder–in ways that are completely believable and every bit as good as the films. While some things are obvious (the staircases are pushed by actors who are visible during the scene) other things are impenetrable even by my family, and I have a background in theater and have certainly seen enough Broadway shows to know how things are done, while my husband has worked in film and my child is obsessed with how magic is done onstage and has been ever since she saw Mary Poppins when she was six.
The level of precision in the magic is amazing. I want to know how much practice it took to get everything perfect. I want to know about things that have gone wrong. I want to know what’s the most fun. In any case, the stagecraft is delightful and absorbing and I kept finding myself delighting in the fact that I was so absorbed in the story that I didn’t even appreciate at first glance how challenging some of the effects must be for the actors. (Ex: when a character travels from point A to point B using an invisibility cloak, the actor obviously did not take the same path. Yet it’s completely believable.)
And possibly the best part–I’ve often wondered why the cast never goes to stage door after Part 1. After all, last night they all went home after the play. It’s because the play has been left on a cliffhanger, and it would disrupt the suspension of disbelief if you then went and chatted with one of the actors before seeing Part 2. (I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out, but I didn’t.) Just as coming into the theater sets the proverbial stage for your experience of seeing the play, walking out of the theater keeps you in the moment. I expect that walking in tonight will help me reorient myself to the moment where the story left off.
Some general notes for theatergoers:
- There are a lot of bathrooms, but there are a LOT of people. They advise you to get to the theater an hour before the show starts. That’s when you should use the bathroom. The lines get long.
- There are merch shops EVERYWHERE. Several per floor. I’m fairly certain they all have the same merch, although it’s possible they only have the general Potter stuff (like House t-shirts) in the front lobby. In any case, my advice is that if there’s a long line for a merch shop, you should just go find another one. Again, the merch changes between shows.
- The sippy cups are awesome and very worth the price of a beverage.
- There are two different Showbills (one for each part), which is cool. (FYI, Showbill is made by Playbill, but has family-friendly advertising.)
- Frozen lemonade (regular or strawberry) is available in the snack shop of the main floor lobby. The strawberry is overly sweet, but the regular is delicious. You’re welcome.
- Plenty of legroom in the mezzanine. It’s probably worth it to get seats in the front mezzanine or front balcony. I don’t remember how much they cost. We paid a lot for rear mezzanine and it’s FAR from the stage.
- If you need a quiet break between acts, the quietest place during intermission is the front lobby shop. Most people either use the bathroom, stay in their seats, or go to buy merch and/or food in the central lobby area.
TL:DR–The show is awesome and you should go see it if you possibly can. I am completely exhausted but I can’t wait for tonight to see Part 2! Part 2 was also excellent, of course, but I didn’t enjoy it quite as much. I was exhausted and the Kid was cranky, so that may have factored in. But I think plot-wise it gets a bit more convoluted (and a lot darker, of course) and the end bit is rather talky and kind of anticlimactic. In the books, I’ve always found that soothing, but it’s sort of odd in a play. Still, I cheered, I cried, and in the end I was on my feet and madly applauding. Also I spent $65 on merch, so.