Audiences at Potted Potter need no formal training the world of J.K. Rowling to enjoy themselves. Having read none of the Harry Potter books and only seen most of the movies one time, I barely know the difference between a snake, a snitch and Slytherin, and I still had a rollicking good time.
Potter has just landed on American soil (at the Little Shubert Theatre) following a successful, Olivier-nominated U.K. run, where it was created by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, children’s entertainment performers from CBBC. In keeping with the tradition of The Compleat Works of Wllm Shkspr (Abridged) by the Reduced Shakespeare Company and One Man Star Wars Trilogy, Clarkson and Turner had a mission to condense Rowling’s thousands of pages about The Boy Who Lived, those he knew and those he fought to within 70 minutes of stage time.
On the evening I saw this show, the running time was closer to 90 minutes. While I had fun—who wouldn’t? This is a show designed to entertain those from 5 years old to 90—it’s easy for Potter to go off the rails a bit. Director Richard Hurst hands the reins over to stars Clarkson and Turner, who don’t just offer direct blow-by-blow summaries of each chapter in the saga. Instead, they interrupt themselves with tangents about their own low-budget resources, a video sequence and a live Quidditch game that forces audience participation.
This last segment, while enjoyable—and not too demanding of athletic practice or actual Quidditch training—lasted for a disproportionately long time for such a short show. And yet both actors know how to improvise and handle an audience, particularly one consisting of many young children, although an odd moment late in the show involving a messy piece of chocolate cake drew laughs, though it was unclear whether this gag was planned or accidental.
The very conceit of Potter also falters a bit. Clarkson portrays himself as a performer who needs to be schooled on Harry, while Turner is an expert, but it’s Turner who cannot recall the eventual fate of Dumbledore in the sixth book (a fate I prided myself on having remembered!). This loosey-goosey storytelling style works in the end, however, because both performers are so endearingly affable. And much like the three children who carried this behemoth of a film series, Clarkson and Turner earn our laughs and trust over the course of the show with winning “I’ll do anything” attitudes that make them look enthused but not desperate.
Their work culminates in a hilarious performance revamping Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” that makes light of the very darkness at the heart of the Potter series. And that may be the greatest achievement of Potter: it reminds us that even in serious stories about life and death, laughter is the most important art of all.
Through Sept. 2, Little Shubert Theatre, 422 W. 42nd St., 212-239-6200, www.pottedpotter.com; $39+.
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