When I first sat down to read the script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I felt… mixed emotions about it. On the one hand, there was a little thrill to be holding a brand new Harry Potter story in my hands after so many years, a sense-memory rush of all those midnight release parties and long summer nights spent reading under the covers.
On the other hand, I felt a quiet, forceful nerd-rage that J.K. Rowling has apparently decided to switch the time travel in her fictional universe from closed loop to open loop all willy-nilly.
And on the third, most potent hand, I was just plain disappointed. Without spoiling too much for the three of you who haven’t read it yet, the story felt like a piece of mediocre fanfiction. There’s nothing wrong with fanfiction, of course, even of the mediocre variety—but Cursed Child seemed to have all the cheesiness of a fanfic without any of the fun, or the fan-made joy, or the increased LGBTQ representation. Like the fanfiction equivalent of when your dad tries to use teen slang.
The whole thing felt like a George Lucas-esque rewrite of our favorite characters. Are we really supposed to believe that Hermione would have ended up as a mean spinster teacher without Ron? Or that time turners and midi-chlorians can fix all plot holes? I just wasn’t feeling it.
So I read the script, returned it to the friend I had borrowed it from, and resigned myself to being slightly disappointed about Cursed Child for the rest of my life.
Then I saw the play.
I grew up in Midtown Manhattan, so I’ve walked past Broadway’s Lyric Theatre more than a few times in my life. I’ve seen plays there before (I assume I’m one of about twelve people on Earth who saw The Pirate Queen in 2007).
Nothing could have prepared me for walking into the Lyric last Sunday, though. Even the carpet had been replaced with a subtle, Harry Potter-themed pattern. Audience members wore Hogwarts robes and children clutched stuffed owls. The whole place crackled with magic before the lights even went down. And once the play started — well….
Magic is real, you guys.
I won’t ruin any of the surprises, but suffice it to say that the onstage magic ranges from the charming to the utterly mind-boggling. Actors vanish and reappear with alarming speed, creatures swoop over the orchestra seats, and flames can flare up from virtually any spot. I found myself so entranced at a few points during my two show marathon that I even forget to be impressed. Why, of course Albus and Scorpius are now invisible, they’re wearing Harry’s old invisibility cloak — wait no this is real life, how did those two men just disappear?
The effects are stunning, but then of course they are. Most of the audience has paid an exorbitant amount of money to be here. And it’s Harry Potter. You’ve got to have magic.
Even beyond the visual spectacle, though, there was a certain magic to seeing Noma Dumezweni and Jamie Parker become Hermione and Harry. Cursed Child was not meant to be experienced as a lifeless script, after all: the clunky dialogue and nonsensical plot points are smoothed over with some top notch acting. That feeling of reading a soulless cash grab is replaced by sheer joy at seeing the heroes of your childhood in the flesh, fully committed to their roles.
And being packed into a cavernous theater full of other starstruck nerds is simply delightful. The name “Dolores Umbridge” produced an audience-wide gasp, while a mere mention of “Neville Longbottom” caused an outbreak of applause. Here was the joy that I had so missed in reading the script. Here was the final piece of the story: us, the fans, the people who love Harry enough that we’ll happily watch him go through a mid-life crisis and fight with his snotty teenage son for over four hours.
I had a strange, otherworldly sense that this is sort of what the first theatre must have felt like in, back in the hazy past of Ancient Greece. You already knew most of the mythology behind the story onstage, you already knew the character of Achilles or Dionysus, and yet there was still an incredible sense of wonder, of collective awe, at seeing your own cultural mythos come to life before your eyes.
Of course, the show is far from perfect, even with all the flying actors and the impeccably executed Polyjuice transformations. The weirdly forced heterosexuality of certain characters still feels weirdly forced. The plot still gets a little convoluted. Some cameos most definitely feel like cameos, the secret baby twist is still a tad contrived, and I, personally, am still annoyed about the violated laws of fictional time travel.
However, seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child onstage, it’s clear that this is not the next installment of the original Harry Potter series. Not really. Those seven books will always be seven books, always ready to welcome us back to Hogwarts should we need to return. But Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a visually astonishing, marvelously acted, fairly corny homage to a series that means so much to an entire generation. It’s a big budget love letter to all things Potter. It’s a celebration of a world that has become our cultural mythology in so many ways. And behind all those expert illusions, it’s even a touching tale about parents, kids, and the less magical side of growing up.
And walking out of that theater with a big, stupid grin on my Potter-loving face, I have to admit that I wasn’t disappointed in the least.