Wednesday, May 9, 2018

REVIEW: Potted Potter

Last year saw the twentieth anniversary of the Harry Potter series and the tenth anniversary since the final book was released. Since the series concluded with The Deathly Hallows in 2007, J. K. Rowling has kept the wizarding world alive through a cavalcade of controversial moves that have left many wondering if Harry Potter really belongs to its author or its fans. As such, the past decade has been filled a myriad of fanworks from musicals and web series to charities and live-action roleplaying events. One group of fans have even taken up an impossible-sounding challenge: performing all seven Harry Potter books in just seventy minutes with only two actors. Does it work? Find out in my full review of Potted Potter after the jump.

DISCLAIMER: I was provided complimentary tickets to Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience courtesy of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. Opinions are my own.

PLAYING TO SOLD OUT HOUSES all over the world, the Olivier Award nominated POTTED POTTER – The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff takes on the ultimate challenge of condensing all seven Harry Potter books (and a real life game of Quidditch) into seventy hilarious minutes. Even if you don’t know the difference between a horcrux and a Hufflepuff, POTTED POTTER will make you roar with laughter.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has sent me to a lot of shows this year. The first - One Man Dark Knight - saw one man performing all three of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films and the second - Musical Thrones - saw five actors performing seven seasons of Game of Thrones. I later saw Up and Away, an original show by the Pittsburgh CLO that featured 5 actors performing dozens of roles in a full-blown stage production.

After all of those, I was kinda burnt out and wasn’t really looking forward to seeing two actors do seven books of Harry Potter. Based on my experience with the other shows I couldn’t possibly imagine how that wasn’t just going to be a super fast headache. Batman is one thing, but Harry Potter has at least three main characters and a massive cast of supporting characters. Katrina, a huge Harry Potter fan, had heard of Potted Potter and assured me she had heard nothing but praise for it. I was skeptical.I was worried. And I was wrong. Potter Potter is an amazingly hilarious show that does nothing but surprise you as it makes its way from one book of J. K. Rowling’s masterpiece to the next.

What makes Potted Potter stand out among other shows where a small cast performs a large cast of characters in an even larger story is that it’s not trying to put on a normal show. Instead of opening in a cupboard under the stairs and moving through the major plot points of the books, Potted Potter is a fourth wall-shattering experience with a sort of show within a show that adapts each of the books with different sketches and sometimes completely different forms of media.

The framing device follows two performers putting on an epic Harry Potter stage show. The show is known for having an alternating cast. For our performance, Scott was the resident Harry Potter expert and alleged personal friend of J. K. Rowling herself. Dan, on the other hand, is a complete moron who has never read a Harry Potter book before. Scott imagined a show with beautiful sets, animatronic creatures, and a large cast of the finest actors from Broadway and Hollywood. Dan apparently spent the budget on the dragon that’s in one scene of book 4 so he is stuck playing every other role in the show while Scott plays Harry the entire time.

Seven books in seventy minutes means about ten minutes for each book, right? Well, a significant portion of the show is set in this framing device with a lot of set up and a lot of time devoted to other antics. Most of the jokes center around Dan revealing cheap versions of iconic Harry Potter props, sets, and costumes much to Scott’s annoyance. Each book is adapted completely differently. Prisoner of Azkaban is told through an audio/visual presentation, The Order of the Phoenix features Dan quickly changing between characters, and the Deathly Hallows is covered by a closing song number.

Considering my hatred for sports movies and anime tournament arcs, I never, ever thought I would say this. But the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, was the highlight of the night. Throughout the show, Dan is desperate to try some Quidditch, but Scott isn’t having it. We finally get to see Dan’s version of the wizarding world’s favorite sport and it is phenomenal. The audience is split down the middle and divided into Houses Gryffindor and Slytherin. Two volunteers from the audience - children, obviously - are brought on stage to play the role of Seekers. A beach ball is then thrown into the audience with the goal of being tossed into the goals hung up dangerously close to the sound systems. Scott then comes out dressed like the Golden Snitch and those Seeker kids took him down so hard we all heard it. The Quidditch portion of the show was a blast and the entire theater was roaring the entire time. I hate sports and I hate The Goblet of Fire, but I could’ve done that for the whole hour.

Potted Potter not only acts as a parody of Harry Potter, poking fun at all of the best and worst things about the series, but it also works as a parody of theater as a whole. There obviously was no budget for extravagant sets and an all-star cast, but that framing device makes the use of all of the cheap props and campy effects funnier than they would’ve been if the show’s goal was just to tell the story of seven books with two actors.

Not only is it one of the funniest shows I’ve seen all year, Potter Potter is the most fun I’ve had in a theater in a long time. The framing story steals the show, each book is adapted in a completely different style so it never gets boring, and someone finally found a way for me to appreciate The Goblet of Fire. Potted Potter is a blast and if you get a chance you have got to see this magically fantastic show.

Potted Potter is heading to Toronto in June and Hong Kong in September. Get your tickets here.