(While I am more than committed to #KeepingTheSecrets, there are mild-to-moderate spoilers here for folks who are talented at squinting, connecting dots, or discovery charms. This is your warning.)
As of this writing, I’ve just wrapped up a whopping near nine hours of theater, walked 30 blocks to avoid the midtown trains, spent an hour on the Subway reading reviews and TV Tropes pages, marched the 20 mins home and have immediately sat down to write this review.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play that doesn’t leave you when you leave the theater. While it doesn’t weigh as heavy as say, Les Miserables or leave you as emotionally shaken as the surprisingly graphic Anastasia, the magic is something alive and living and it takes root in those willing to believe.
That being said, any production, no matter how beautiful and charming and amazing can still have its flaws, and it’s no secret that Harry Potter has found more than its fair share of criticisms.
Here are my own feelings:
The Good Stuff
I expected to be enthralled by the staging and being thrown back into a magical world I’ve always loved so much. I didn’t expect to be so taken in by the music.
Composed by indie musician Imogen Heap, the score combines bubbly vocals with stirring strings, but the instruments never seem to bog down the modern sounds. The energetic beats were incredibly refreshing when I sat down expecting the same-old full pit orchestra with cinematic, but unremarkable swells.
I plan on looking into where to find the soundtrack immediately to have it underscore literally everything I do from now on.
While Harry Potter is a straight play – and one of the only shows on Broadway now with no singing and dancing, it features a huge amount of choreographed “movement”. Incredibly synchronized with sound queues, beat-for-beat and step-for-step with the music, the movements are not only very cool-looking, but also highly metaphorical. Certain steps represent boarding a train, gathering for class, learning to control magic, or travels in time and space.
Movement makes up for a relatively minimalist set but also ensures the show is full of action and momentum.
There’s also a super-cool dance the bad guys do. It’s just wonderful to behold.
Here’s the thing about Harry Potter. He’s the teenage protagonist in a book intended for 10-to-16-year-olds and while it’s fun to watch him wangst through a PTSD meltdown, he’s the rebellious hero of the plucky resistaince who you know will win out in the end.
You don’t see him as a mature human with real grown-up depth. You don’t see him as vulnurable, deal with real adult fears, or face the prospects of perhaps failing at being a father. And that is a beautiful thing to see unfold onstage, especially when it’s as wonderfully acted as this current cast played it.
I fully admit that sitting down for this show, it’s 60-70% of what I was there for. The Cool Stuff.
There’s fire shooting out of wands, instantaneous on-stage quick-changes, trap-door affects, transformations, flying wirework performances, moving staircase montages, spinning clocks, and a supercool blacklight-induced reveal that I won’t spoil here. And more.
If you’ve got even a passing interest in stagecraft, slight-of-hand, or practical effects, this show is a spectacular.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
(Much more spoilery spoilers abound here. If you’re really into secret-keeping, skip this section)
There’s no easy way to put this. The entire central conflict revolves around the fact that the boys want to save Cedric Diggory’s life (remember him?) but if they cause him to fail the Triwizard Tournament, he will delve so deep into bitterness and self-pity, the kid will become a Death Eater and usher in a new holocaust at the hands of the Maginazis.
Yeah. Cedric Diggory who took his Quidditch losses in stride. Cedric Diggory who offered Harry help with his own Triwizard challenges even if it meant the possibility of setting himself back. Cedric Diggory who had caring and supportive parents who loved him to the ends of the earth and grieved over his death until their own final breaths. Cedric Diggory.
You know what would have made a better plot? Saving someone who actually mattered to Harry and his children. Sirius Black, one of the only adults in Harry’s life who didn’t see him as a means to an end or as some mythological hero and who Albus could look up to as the heavy metal flying motorcycle rebel hero he never knew. Remus Lupin who didn’t treat Harry as an extension of his father, who left behind his own orphan who could easily come back with his own angsty blame against the Potters. And Lupin so deserves a more accurate representation. (I refuse to be sorry for this, David Thewlis always seemed like he had little understanding or interest in his own character).
Literally anything but turning sweet, normal Cedric Diggory into some evil cape-twirling racist.
Themes and Resolution Dissonance
One central theme running through The Cursed Child is that ones parents do not necessarily determine their destiny and that it’s okay to seek love, care, and validation if it’s done in a healthy way.
This is completely dropped when it comes to our main villain.
This antagonist, revealed very late in the show, is another orphan-of-war who was brought up, much like Harry himself, in less than pleasant circumstances without much by way of loving care. While Harry has pity and affection piled on him despite his numerous mistakes that nearly and actually resulted in the deaths of others, our heroes refuse to even consider the perspective of the villain.
They made it clear that all they sought was love, validation, and appreciation from their parents, and have gone about finding it by any means necessary. They felt the need to be “evil” in order to achieve these goals that the heroes themselves work to because they weren’t given the same support or options.
Not only that, but the heroes are practically hand-delivered a golden opportunity to reverse the ravages of time and bring this neglected person into a more healthy home, but instead the “good guys” merely fling them off-stage with the promise of locking them away in the cold, lonely villain prison where they’d live out the remainder of their days under the threat of their souls being forcibly sucked out.
- Some actors seemed a little too keen on acting exactly like the characters in the movies did. McGonnagal and Hagrid in particular seemed to be trying a little too hard.
- Hagrid also had a very strange moment after something extremely tragic where he kinda blunders in like a big pile of jolly joy where canonically he was absolutely distraught. It made him seem a bit flat.
- Ron, too, got flattened to little more than a joke character and comic relief, the writers sort of missed the point of him.
- If two of the characters were male and female, they would have been each other’s love interests with absolutely zero changes to the script, but because they are the same gender, they had to have an extra heterosexual love interest shoehorned in.
- Some strange religious imagery where there never was any before in the world of Harry Potter. Not that I have any particular problem with it myself, it just seemed a little out of place.
- Time travel plots.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was a good show. It was a magical, exciting ride, and while long, certainly worth the time. While it had its issues, returning to the world of Harry Potter was a journey I’ll never forget.