The title of this rambunctiously ramshackle (de)reconstruction of JK Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels has this additional tag: “The Unauthorized Experience.” Though it is doubtful whether authorization would have made a difference in the way that its British authors/performers Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner have encapsulated the seven books-long adventures of the boy wizard, they are to be commended for a comical condensation that (according to one of my young companions) “covers all the plot points.”
A potted parody to be sure, the idea that prompted this family-friendly entertainment appears to be as irreverently respectful to its source as is the endearingly inane theatricality of its execution. Dressed super-casually in white-trimmed black t-shirts and blue jeans, Jeff mostly plays Potter, but keep a close lookout for a probably also unauthorized appearance of Dame Judy Dench. Dan plays virtually everyone else including Dobby the house elf and Potter’s archenemy Voldemort.
Jeff and Dan rely for effects on some artfully designed set pieces, a trove of cleverly mauled and manipulated hand puppets, and a collection of gloriously ghastly hats and wigs. While they playfully sustain the shared and purposely convoluted narrative to its conclusion, they are not about to make it easy for anyone not familiar with the series to keep from scratching his or her head.
It takes a while for this basically very silly show to build up a head of steam following a somewhat belabored start in which Jeff and Dan set about warming up the audience with some cheekily apologetic chatter about not being able to afford to pay actors, or afford proper scenery and spectacular special effects. That they are able to keep Potter’s adventures at the fore is quite a feat, notwithstanding a digression or three from the sequence of events in the seven novels. Director Richard Hurst is presumed guilty as charged with willfully abetting Jeff and Dan in their parodic pursuit.
Full disclosure: I admit that I have only seen the first film in the series (I do have the final film saved on DVD to watch at some future time) and have not read the novels. This did not keep me from laughing along with most of the audience, a good percentage (a calculated guess) being around the age of 12. I particularly enjoyed the occasional detours that took us whimsically from our studies at the school of the dark arts to Narnia and to a chance encounter with Mary Poppins and the Lion King.
For the most part, however, it is all about Harry, He who Must Not Be Named, and the beloved wizard sport Quidditch including audience participation (with cheering and screaming encouraged) in a match. I unexpectedly found myself a participant in that match –– able to sock the Quaffle (a large clear plastic globe) across the aisles but sadly failing to score.
Real scoring is left to Dan and Jeff, who are masters of dreadful accents, awful jokes, and initiating one giddily performed antic after another, one of which finds Jeff hilariously outfitted as “The Golden Snitch” as he is pursued by a boy and a girl picked from the audience. Purists will surely not be upset by the liberties taken for the sake of a sight gag, such as Jeff getting warthogs mixed up with Hogwarts and the long-awaited appearance of the awesome fire-breathing dragon, or as Jeff proudly proclaims, “‘Warhorse’ has nothing on this.” A climactic musical highlight includes Dan’s rendering as Voldemort (with special lyrics) of “I Will Survive,” that glorious disco-beat hymn that is sure to inspire a corroborating response from some parents as they exit the theater. It was obvious to me that the other three pre-teen children in my charge did more than survive, as they appeared to respond affirmatively and enthusiastically to this madcap diversion
The chaps have previously warmed up their exuberant Piece de Potter in Toronto, London, Edinburgh, Australia and New Zealand. They’re now proving to us in New York that they have achieved what they set out to do: make us laugh at their lunacy as they show us and perhaps even the Potter purists the benefits of judicious editing. ***
“Potted Potter,” Little Shubert Theater, 422 West 42nd Street. Through August 12. For tickets (from $39.50) call 212-239-6200.