Elsa & Anna & Harry & Hermione & Ron
I’m a 35-year-old man who spent half of his week immersed in stories for kids, attending performances of “Frozen,” the new Broadway musical, and “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the recent Tony winner for Best New Play. I did not bring a niece, nephew or young cousin for cover, and I’m not ashamed of it. Both shows were damn fun. Exciting theater? Only one of them, and I’m sure you can guess which. But I’m not going to get on the bandwagon and knock “Frozen.” It’s a fine imitation of the film, mixing cartoon silliness with earnest sisterly love, told with relative efficiency. It’s a safe production, however, one that begs for a bit of boldness (though that sauna kickline was deliciously risqué for Disney). But it’s a solid one. Part of the issue is that it feels at times almost too cinematic: The projections on which it relies heavily are stellar but no matter how advanced, projections are just flat animations, which is what we already got the first time around with this story. A stronger sense of immersion might have made the show sizzle, made it feel fresh. But it’s still a cute, clever, colorful tale and that was enough for the 10-year-old next to me, in from Dallas for her birthday, who was shivering with joy throughout, her mom in tears from watching her daughter so excited. If a new generation of theatergoers is coming of age in Arendelle, I’m all for it.
For my own birthday this year, I asked my parents for the “Harry Potter” series. I had never read the books – they came out just as I was entering college and I was too busy and too cool for the boy wizard. But I resisted seeing the films because I knew that someday I wanted to experience his story through J.K. Rowling’s words. This year, over a three-month stretch, I gorged on the books and emerged, rather breathless, with a deep respect for the world she created. Part of the catalyst for that blitz was having scored tix to “Cursed Child” last fall, and this week we returned to Hogwarts (the 42ndStreet campus) for the next chapter in this fanciful saga. Naturally, I’ve sworn to #KeepTheSecrets, so nothing here about plot developments. So let’s just say it’s a worthy addition to the Potterverse, with a script that captures Rowling’s signature fusion of fantasy and existential angst. What I greatly appreciated about the books is Rowling’s almost radical patience. Sure, that can be a critique of pacing and a call for stronger editing, but I found it remarkable her willingness to let the story slow down in order to examine the anger, jealously, insecurity and loneliness of her teenage heroes. The play luxuriates in this too (hence the two-part, five-hour experience) but it’s this insistence on the human drama – paired with the shadowy, sophisticated, minimal design – that makes it work as mature theater as well.