True story: I’ve never read a Harry Potter book, nor seen any of the eight films from the wildly popular series. I’ll admit that in the Aughts, my resistance was that of a snotty, 20-something faux rebel. I wanted no part of common literature. I had two English degrees!
With time and the increasingly massive success of the pop cultural juggernaut, I started to feel a little foolish. Multiple critical exclamations over the quality of J.K. Rowling’s prose reinforced that I was probably missing something special. But at a certain point, the train had left and I figured it was too late to get onboard. One thing I do know about the Harry Potter series is that the sum total of pages is 4,224. And it takes 19 hours to watch the movies. That’s a serious investment.
So for many reasons I relished the opportunity to see “Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Potter Experience – A Parody by Dan and Jeff.” The production’s astute marketing position, per press materials, is a “condensing or ‘potting,’ of all seven Harry Potter books into 70 madcap minutes.” A broad, cheeky overview of a time-consuming leviathan. Who could resist that proposition?
I attended press night with a loved one who is my Potter opposite — a devoted fan. I figured if I got stuck on a reference, her presence would be handy indeed. It turns out I needn’t have been concerned. One of the greatest assets of the family-oriented show — beyond the excellence of the two performers — is its ability to appeal to all audiences. Rapid dialogue, song, dance, comedy, audience engagement, props and consumable brevity: quite literally, something for everyone.
BBC Television hosts Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, who created “Potted Potter,” do a great job of involving everyone, not only in the story, but in themselves. And just as Rowling adroitly accomplished, the performers interest the adults while remembering the most excited lovers of magic: children.
The tone is set before the show starts when Clarkson walks through the audience, thanking families for attending. As he does, the tall man lowers himself to a kid’s level — in both stature and tone — and welcomes them into the Potter world. Though not part of the script, I enjoyed the delight of the little ones, giddy with the attention, every bit as much as the actual performance.
If you can’t have fun during “Potted Potter,” you’re just a Muggle. There’s a live Quidditch game in the middle of the production which involves good old-fashioned team rivalry, cute kids in wizard hats and Super Soakers. It’s been an extra cynical and painful few news weeks in Chicago. But I dare one to remain smile-immune in the face of so much merriment. It’s good natured and inviting.
Clarkson and Turner give so much of themselves, I’m sure they need a Gatorade and a long nap after the curtain drops. For 70 non-stop minutes they transition between many of the Potter world’s 772 characters. They whiz through the important plot points of seven novels, and they do it with little more than a slew of props and advanced ad-lib and physical comedy skills. The duo displays an endearing love for Potter and a completely admirable respect for children as audience members worthy of a quality experience. With both material and consumer, they get it.
“Potted Potter” is a show for which you want to root, because it’s an all-around joyful experience. It’s icing on the cake that the massive appeal of the institution it lovingly lampoons ensures success. Highly recommended for Potter novices and experts alike, crowds of all ages, and frankly humanity.
“Potted Potter” runs through Jan. 3, 2016 at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E Chestnut, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 800-775-2000 or visit the Broadway In Chicago website.