Chicago Theatre Review
The Boy Who Lived Lives On
Potted Potter – Broadway in Chicago
Returning to Chicago for a second successful run, this parody of J.K. Rowling’s much-loved series about The Boy Who Lived is almost as popular as the books and films themselves. Nine years ago English improv comedians Jefferson Turner and Daniel Clarkson created this entertainment as a diversion for Harry Potter fans camped outside bookstores waiting for the release of the latest literary installment. But now, instead of trekking down to the Orlando theme park, Muggles can relive the world of the Boy Wizard through this 70-minute show.
Similar to the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s “Complete Wrks of Wilm Shkspr (Abridged), Turner and Clarkson offer “the unauthorized Harry experience” by promising to condense all seven of Rowling’s books into a little over an hour. The former BBC TV hosts seem to be having a blast as familiar moments from the fantasy series play out improv style (although this is a totally scripted show). This time around Dan and Jeff not only duplicate the successful show they brought to Chicago three years ago, but they’ve managed to incorporate several current events, just to keep it fresh and new.
The show doesn’t precisely follow all seven books, scene-by-scene; that would be virtually impossible. It does, however, hit the highlights of the Potter saga in its story of good against evil. The show not only stars Harry Potter (played with enthusiasm by Jeff), but offers creative cameo appearances by Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Snape, Draco Malfoy, Voldemort, the Death Eaters, Sirius Black, Mad-Eye Moody and many other characters, all imaginatively portrayed by the highly energetic Dan. We see the boys’ version of the Hogwarts Express, the basilisk and “the dragon from Book 4;” there’s even an exciting, interactive game of Quidditch, which involves the entire audience, and is truly the highlight of this revue.
The whole experience is unique and provokes a lot of laughter, but at times seems a little chaotic, especially for younger audience members and those unfamiliar with the books and films. The show’s premise is based upon the tried-and-true Abbot and Costello formula for comedy. Jeff is the straight man, the resident expert of all things Harry Potter; Dan is more the comic, playing the dimwitted dude who’s faking his familiarity with the J.K. Rowling creations. Dan continually confuses the books with other famous literary series, such as The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, and the evening proceeds like a madcap episode of “Laugh-in” or “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”
The sets, props and costumes aren’t terribly elaborate (except for one very funny Golden Snitch outfit). Wigs, puppets, a simple video presentation and silly string sometimes take the place of any real innovative comedy. But still, this show is entertaining and often quite funny, primarily because of its two energetic, charismatic writer/performers. In the end, the show does what it set out to accomplish: while poking fun at the Potterheads in the audience, the production celebrates what makes the Harry Potter series so wonderful and unforgettable, and may even motivate some theatergoers to finally pick up the books and discover the Boy Wizard firsthand.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 1-January 3 by Broadway in Chicago at the Broadway Playhouse, at Water Tower Place, 175 E Chestnut St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 1-800-7750-2000 or 877-280-9582 or by going to www.broadwayinchicago.com.