Parody duo takes all 7 Harry Potter books into the shrinking shack
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org November 11, 2012 7:10PM
Jefferson Turner (left) as Harry Potter with Daniel Clarkson in "Potted Potter."
‘POTTED POTTER: THE UNAUTHORIZED HARRY EXPERIENCE’
† Previews begin Tuesday; opens Nov. 18 and runs through Dec. 23
† Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut
† Tickets: $39.75-$69.75
† (800) 775-2000; BroadwayInChicago.com
Updated: December 13, 2012 6:04AM
Full disclosure: I am among the very few people on the planet who somehow have neglected to read any of J.K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter books (which reportedly have sold 450 million copies in 67 languages) or seen any of the eight movies (said to have grossed $7.7 billion) that are based on them.
But even a turtle who has slept under a rock since 1997 — when “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” was first published — knows something about the orphaned boy wizard who lives among the non-magical Muggles, whose parents were killed by the evil Lord Voldemort, who attends the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and whose friends include the fun-loving Ronald Weasley, his sister, Ginny, and the studious Hermione Granger. That same turtle no doubt also has heard about quidditch, the fictional semi-contact sport that involves wizards and witches flying around on broomsticks.
So the idea of receiving the theatrical equivalent of a 70-minute speed-reading course in all things Harry Potter has its appeal. And it can now be had in the form of “Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience — A Parody by Dan and Jeff,” the rapid-fire show about to begin previews at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place.
Written and performed by two former BBC children’s television hosts — Daniel Clarkson (who plays all the characters but Harry) and Jefferson Turner (as the bespactacled wizard boy) — “Potted Potter” is a zany condensation (or “potting”) of all seven of Rowling’s books, carried out with the help of multiple costume changes, zany props, a slew of songs and a hint of Hogwarts magic.
Clarkson was a working actor of 20 when he had his first encounter with Harry — reading the initial Potter book to his younger brother, then 10, as a bedtime story.
“I would just keep reading aloud even after he’d fallen asleep,” he said.
Turner confesses he hadn’t read any of the Potter books until his encounter with Clarkson.
“But then I read five in a week and a half, and fell instantly in love with them.”
It all started in 2005 when Clarkson was approached to create some sort of event for the midnight launch of the sixth book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.”
“There were two competing bookstores on London’s Oxford Street at the time — a Borders and a Waterstones — and it was the [now defunct] Borders that asked me to come up with an idea. So I thought: ‘Condense the first five books into five minutes.’ ”
Clarkson also had the good luck to find Turner, who was busking in the Covent Garden area at the time.
As Turner recalled: “I was attracting the attention of about five or six Japanese tourists when this tall man with a wide grin appeared. It was Dan. He said he liked what I was doing and asked me to go for a drink.”
Clarkson expected 50-100 people at the store. “But there were a thousand,” he said, “and then we repeated it several times and had an amazing turnout.”
The rest is history, including a run of the ramped-up show in London’s West End that earned them an Olivier Award nomination, followed by a visit to Toronto, an Off Broadway run, and now a U.S. tour.
As far as magic is concerned, Clarkson (who was born in London but grew up in the country), confesses that “as a kid I once had the idea to try to put my cat in a shoebox and saw it in half, like I’d seen magicians do.” Turner (who grew up in the country but later moved to London) admits he “always wanted a magic set for Christmas as a kid, but never had the patience to practice”).
Asked why they thought Harry Potter had become such a global phenomenon, Turner observed: “I think it is his true Britishness, especially in the U.S. and Canada, where British things seem to be in vogue. Also, while neither of us went to a boarding school [‘My mom and dad loved me,’ Clarkson chimed in], it is very much a British tradition.”
Clarkson put a slightly different slant on things: “The British don’t have many heroes these days. We are usually the villains. So now we’ve got Harry, and James Bond, of course.”
Both Dan and Jeff admit to being the classic “class clowns,” who were always trying to make people laugh, and who were raised on Monty Python and the “This Is Spinal Tap” guys.
And what about J.K. Rowling and the “unauthorized” label on their show?
“We’ve never met her, but I imagine ‘her people’ have seen the show,” said Turner. “She is incredibly generous to let us carry on. But this show is first and foremost a loving homage, and I don’t think we’re much of a threat to her global phenomenon. If we ever had the chance to meet her I think our first question would be: ‘Can you sign our books, please?’ ”