New Harry Potter Play Makes Its Way Across the Pond
In spring 2018, it is expected that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will begin performances at the Lyric Theatre on Broadway. Having been playing to critical and commercial success in London’s West End since June 2016, it is only natural that such an international phenomenon will find its way to theatre’s biggest playing field, Broadway. At the same time, it is fitting and refreshing that the show has been developed and first found the stage in Britain, where J.K. Rowling first wrote the Harry Potter books. In this way, the play has been able to cultivate a strong sense of quality without being over-commercialized. For instance, it is notable that the play is not a musical, but a straight play – which is historically considered to be the less commercial of the options. However, in truly considering the material, J.K. Rowling, along with the producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender, determined that the story would best be served by an original theatrical production that did not rely on musical numbers. At the same time, the creative team decided to approach the material without simply mimicking one of the novels or films. In order to truly add value to the franchise, and satisfy Harry Potter fans along with a wider audience, the decision was made to craft an entirely new story, one based on a grown-up Harry Potter and his son, rather than to add extraneous entertainment matter into the universe. Furthermore, the choice to separate the story into two separate plays was both a risky and a potentially lucrative choice – while a double-decker production is often hard to sell, in this case, it may double the revenue for what has the makings of a very successful commercial endeavor. You can see the two parts of the play on the same day, consecutively, non-consecutively or on separate days.
The Lyric Theatre is the current name of a massive Broadway house that is presently home to the Cirque du Soleil show Paramour. While Paramour has been surviving in this huge theatre, it also agreed to a deal that the landlord, Ambassador Theatre Group, offered in exchange for vacating the space earlier than they had planned. Cirque du Soleil was happy enough with the financial terms to leave, stating that the show has been doing financially well, and that they will seek an alternate venue for Paramour – if not in New York, which is proving to be tricky given the current scale of the production in the massive house, then in Europe or Asia. In any case, Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG) – the London-based monolith of theatre ownership that recently purchased both the Lyric and the Hudson Theatres on Broadway – incentivized Cirque du Soleil to find another home for Paramour. In its place, ATG has pledged to completely reconstruct the Lyric Theatre to be smaller. The curse of this massive venue – which was home to the infamous injuries and lawsuits of Spiderman – Turn Off the Dark, as well as to the commercial failures of On the Town and Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games – is its size. Rather than trying to claim that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child could survive with 1,900 seats to fill each night, which perhaps it could given the brand recognition, the producers smartly decided that the Lyric could only work for their needs if it were to undergo a substantial renovation to seat closer to 1,500 people.
An End to the Curse at the Lyric Theatre?
Following a tour of Broadway theatres in September, the creative team settled on the Lyric, given the pledge from ATG to renovate. It is reportedly a mere coincidence that Sonia Friedman Productions, the lead producer of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, is a subsidiary of Ambassador Theatre Group, as it is reported that this did not factor into the producer’s choice of venue. In the end, this may prove to be a fortuitous series of events – both for the Harry Potter creative team, who will have less big shoes to fill, and for Ambassador Theatre Group, who will be owning a theatre that may have lost its curse of largess. While it is just too costly to run a show in a massive venue, even one filled with a spectacle such as a Cirque du Soleil production, the new renovations will likely create a venue that can compete with the best of them on Broadway. In this way, the Cursed Child may be just the remedy to save the long-cursed Lyric Theatre.