Written by: Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. Additional material by: Richard Hurst
At: Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St. Tickets: BroadwayInChicago.com; $25-69.95. Runs through: Jan. 21
How does a seasoned pair of British stage & television comedians pack seven full-length fantasy novels into a 70-minute stage production? Why, with magic, of course! And magic is just what's on the menu for Broadway in Chicago's third-season production of Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Potter ExperienceA Parody by Dan and Jeff.
This show conjures the classic straight man-versus-funny man comedy duo routine, a la Abbott and Costello. Jefferson Turner ( Jeff ) takes the straight-man role, ever the serious, driven one trying to keep things on track as this duo undertakes the arduous task of compacting all seven Harry Potter books into a highly creative and original one-act presentation. Meanwhile, Daniel Clarkson ( Dan ) plays the funny man, always attempting some incantation of silliness and often derailing Jeff's well-laid plans through mischief or foolish naivetÃ©.
While this show left me enchanted by the end, I will admit, however, the first 10 minutes did not have me spellbound. The opening of the show is perhaps the most scripted and where Turner and Clarkson feel less genuine. More stand-up comics than actors, the pair seem better suited for semi-improvisation than scripted acting. Their charm truly shines when ingredients like unpredictable elements and audience interaction are added, which happens often once the Hogwarts Express leaves the station.
Indeed, when I attended, the most entertaining part of the show was when Turner and Clarkson attempted to simulate a game a Quidditch, employing the whole audience as members of either the Gryffindor or Slytherin teams. Raising the bar further, the duo brought up to the stage a pair of adorable young volunteers, a girl and boy, to play the Seekers, while Clarkson served as referee and Turner himself played the Snitch. Things took a hilarious turn when the girl volunteer got cheeky with Clarkson and Turner, who dished their own bit of entertaining sassiness right back.
The duo's comedy spans the gamut from childish physical schtick, to pop-culture pastiche, to politics, yet is woven together in a way that appeals to everyone. Just as J.K. Rowling's original book series captured the imagination of readers of all ages, Clarkson and Turner's comic concoction feels equally well-suited to families with kids or the child in each of us. And references to other beloved fantasy fiction staples permeate the performance, from historic treasures like The Hobbit to modern favorites like Stranger Things. One does not have to be a diehard Harry fan to enjoy this show. But if your heart takes flight for fantasy fiction, it will ride a Nimbus-2000 for Potted Potter!