4:16 PM CST, November 19, 2012
Not only do they have to put up with unknowing and uncaring Muggles at every turn, but hard-core Harry Potter fans are now, alas, out of new books to anticipate. So in the absence of a costly trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios in Florida, or to the new Warner Bros. studio tour in Leavesden in the U.K., the die-hard Midwestern Potter-head is, well, casting around.
Into that void leap Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, a savvy British duo who came up with "Potted Potter," which is billed as a Harry Potter parody, but more accurately represents an opportunity for Potter lovers to spend a little time with like-minded individuals, play a little ersatz Quidditch and generally celebrate their love of Hogwarts in a safe, nerd-friendly environment that totally understands the cultural centrality of butterbeer, and why Hermione will always have a special spot in the dreams of a 12-year-old boy.
"Potted Potter" first attracted attention at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. And although its popularity has sparked this cash-spinning North American tour in relatively large venues like the Broadway Playhouse, this is no Potter extravaganza, Potter takedown nor deep dive into the darker themes of J.K. Rowling-dom.
Au contraire, the 80-minute "Potted Potter" still has the spirit of a show you'd climb several sets of stairs to see. (And, preferably, pay student prices for your ticket. That, alas, is one thing that has changed.)
There is a certain juvenility to the proceedings: Clarkson and Turner like water guns and quirky little videos, Silly String, sock puppets, funny voices and devil's horns. The tone is one of self-deprecation — Clarkson and Turner are constantly at pains to remind you that they know their show is cheap and silly, which of course gives them permission to be as every bit as cheap and silly as they like. Brits are good at that self-protection thing.
Of the pair, it's Clarkson who does most of the heavy lifting, with Turner functioning as more of a straight man. Taken together, the pair operates rather like in the tradition of the great British comedy team of Morecambe and Wise. Clarkson is a genuinely funny guy and skilled improviser, very much in the tradition of British farceurs, and he manages both to invest his tawdry little entertainment with enough energy to keep us from noticing just how little there is in the way of real content, and to raise the stakes sufficiently that it actually seems to matter that this pair will achieve their goal of delivering all seven Harry Potter books in their romp.
My main disappointment, though, was the relative paucity of actual heavy Potter content. The show implies it will give us the entire Potter series in a few minutes of stage traffic, which makes you look forward to some very clever repartee (a la Reduced Shakespeare Company and other great abridgers), but that never really arrives here.
Clarkson and Turner aren't so much potting their Potter for fun and profit as offering a genial, diverse, Potter-themed entertainment. You get cruise-ship-like games, trivia, audience participation and jokes — all manner of silliness themed around all things Potter. This show's origins were in a promotional event for one of the book releases — indeed, this still feels very much like the kind of show you might see in a bookstore.
For a 9-year-old Potter-head sitting next to me, that was more than enough to delight. Clarkson and Turner have the personas of older but not-yet-grown brothers whose goofy love of Potter only validates its importance. And since that means they're celebrating how reading can allow you entry into an exclusive club, you don't begrudge them anything.
One last note for the Potterati: The seats at the Broadway Playhouse are all good, no need to pony up for the top-price seats, unless you need to get squirted to have a good time. Tickets also go on sale Friday for an extension at the Harris Theater.
When: Through Dec. 23 (at Broadway Playhouse); Dec. 26 to Jan. 6 (at the Harris)
Where: Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut St.; Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St.
Running time: 80 minutes
Tickets: $39.75 to $69.75 at 800-775-2000 and broadwayinchicago.com