A transplant from London, where it purportedly met with sold-out crowds, "Potted Potter" was so disappointing when we saw it this weekend that we suspect it must have been a rather small theater in the U.K.
That's not to say that the Little Shubert Theater on 42nd wasn't packed during an afternoon show when we attended, one performance before the official opening tonight. What didn't jibe was the fact that 499 seats equals upward of $27,000 in sales (by estimate) for a cheesy hour-long kid's show very loosely based on the best-selling novels about the world's most famous teen wizard. Because when the highlight of your experience is a beach ball bouncing around the seats in an audience-participation game of "Quidditch" (lasting at least 10 minutes or $8 dollars), you have to wonder where all that money's going
and if the lackluster comedy duo at the helm made a deal with Voldemort to pull this off.
The premise is that two actors, Jeff Turner and Dan Clarkson, are going to cover the plot of all seven "Potter" books in 70 minutes (our viewing ran about 90). Jeff plays Harry Potter throughout, while Dan takes on the other 299 characters in the books (but it's more like half a dozen in total, if you're counting). The twist is that while Jeff is an avid "Pothead," Dan has never actually interacted with J.K. Rowling's fictional universe and has to make things up as he goes along confusing the storyline with "Twilight," "The Lord of the Rings" and the Narnia books.
That is to say, much of the entertainment is based on one of the actors getting everything wrong, rather than actually parodying "Harry Potter." Avid fans won't be satisfied by the superficial references this play doesn't reward those who are in the know. But it does mean that parents who are dragged in by their kids won't be left out on what's happening. Some jokes land at an elementary level, some are meant for adults and many seem to take place entirely for the enjoyment of Jeff and Dan.
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"Potted Potter" is the worst kind of name-dropping, banking on its "unauthorized" relationship to a popular franchise to get around using talent to sell tickets. It also seems unauthored, with the actors bumbling around, improvising and often interacting with the audience instead of working from a script. It's not funny anymore when the actors joke about how low-budget their show is, and you realize that the sparse set and minimal, cheap props onstage are actually all that you are going to get. But how can we fault them for not putting more work into this such as building a set, writing a script or sourcing better material from the wealth of content available? They probably have a hard enough time staying upright without reeling from the dancing dollar signs spinning around their heads like winged golden snitches.
"Potted Potter" follows the hype of "Harry Potter: The Exhibition," which visited Times Square last year and did well by offering tourists a glimpse of the book and movie memorabilia a much better deal for your dough, but it's unfortunately already left town. Sadly, this show will probably get a lot of buzz and keep filling the seats until word of mouth trumps curiosity and unbridled fandom. But we suggest you save your $40-$70 (plus tax!) and take a trip instead to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Orlando. At least they actually serve butterbeer! And hey, if that's not in your budget, just re-read the books and marathon the movies again like a proper Potter fan we promise it will be a more magical use of your afternoon.
Critic's pick: 'Starcatcher'
Parents seeking theater for the whole family should check out "Peter and the Starcatcher." Now on Broadway, it's an imaginative Peter Pan origins story suitable for ages 10 and up — and it's been nominated for nine Tony Awards. (Jeff and Dan: Don't even think about "Potted Peter." We suspect angry Christian Borle fans are even more unforgiving than Death-Eaters.)