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Theater Review: “Potted Potter” at the Prince Music Theater (Philadelphia)

Sections: Books, Comedy, Movies

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“Potted Potter” has finally found its way to Philadelphia.

Alliterations aside, this 70-minute long, U.K.-based production has made its way to the Prince Theater in Philadelphia and if you have a chance (between now and Jan. 5) to catch this raucous, two-person play then I strongly recommend you do so. It’s utterly worth it… even for all you muggles out there.

This family-friendly show started in 2005, when co-writers/creators Jefferson Turner and Daniel Clarkson were asked to create a 5-minute street show to summarize (“potted” is British slang for condensed) all five of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books (at the time) in order to entertain English fans queuing up (that means “lining up” in American) to buy the sixth book, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” From there the show expanded into an hour-long street performance and finally into the award-winning, international spectacle it is today.

Right from the start, even before the show officially begins, it feels like you’re in the midst of those who actually care about creating a fully

Prince Theater lobby -- pre-"Potter"

This lobby area of the Prince Theater was transformed into everything “Potter.” Although, I suspect using hard work instead of magic. Yet, impressive nonetheless.

immersive experience. Now, I’ve been to “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida and “Potted Potter” doesn’t produce THAT mega-budgeted level of detail, but it does give it a run for its money — and the Butter Brew is ten times better (and much cheaper… and heavy on the rum, if you want it), I’m happy to say.

Besides the ability to purchase a certain liquid concoction consisting of cream soda, caramel syrup and heavy cream, theatergoers are also treated to having all of the ticket-takers furnished with those recognizable, circular-shaped Harry Potter glasses, as well as a giant chalkboard in the lobby that keeps track of all of the “houses” of Hogwarts — from Gryffindor to Hufflepuff to Slytherin (this all makes sense after seeing the performance, so ignore it at first). Souvenirs are rather expensive though, but if you feel an overwhelming need to pay five bucks for a pair of those aforementioned specs, be my guest.

As you walk in the theater you are given a complimentary scroll (it’s only the program, so there’s no need to unravel it at your seat… it’s a pain to read), while a synthesized version of the Harry Potter theme music is pumped-in for your listening pleasure. While you’re waiting for the show to commence, one energetic member of the cast walks around shaking hands with the audience, while a second, more academic performer sits on the stage and feverishly studies a copy of one of Rowling’s seven novels.

By the way, there are three performers listed in the program and it’s a rotating schedule, with two out of the three involved in a single show. In

Delme Thomas and James Percy from "Potted Potter"

These guys (Del and James) were transformed into… well… Del and James (aka: Potter 1 and Potter 2). This time, however,  I suspect magic was used. If Faustian dealings count as magic, that is.

the case of our show, it was English actor James Percy playing himself as straight man James and Welsh actor Delme Thomas as Del, who was full of unbridled energy and youthful animation. It was a typical comic setup, with James acting like a serious scholar of all seven books and Del seeming as if he’d never read a page in his life. Although, this was a conventional arrangement, it worked nonetheless, with the results being a hilarious mixture of slapstick and wordplay. The content is kept clean, for the most part, unless you count wolfing down a piece of chocolate cake and smearing it across your face as “dirty humor.” Basically, if you want to take your kids to see “Potted Potter,” then it would be a wise decision, as there’s enough physical comedy to keep them entertained.

However, if you’re a ravenous fan of Harry’s world and you’re expecting an in-depth display of insider knowledge and philosophy, you might be disappointed. Sure, it starts off with a fair amount of humor aimed toward the more fanatical set. One such remark was aimed towards Hogwart’s Headmaster and ancient wizard Dumbledore, with Del quipping that if he was such a great sorcerer then why did he seek out a career in teaching of all things. But this style of humor is quickly replaced with super soakers squirting the audience, child-heavy crowd participation and Del clamoring for James to pleases let him play the promised game of Quidditch which is mentioned on the show’s promotional poster.

This lowbrow brand of humor also produces a few low points as well, with Del handing James two warthogs on a skateboard after he asked for the Hogwarts set being a particular example that stands out. “Are those warthogs, Del?,” he asks. “Indeed, they are,” Del answers. And indeed… they… were. Cue rimshot.

As for the actual game of Quidditch, I don’t want to ruin anything for you, but those who were expecting flying broomsticks and speeding

Potted Potter at the Prince Theater

I have to say, this play was a-okay. Sorry, I couldn’t help it.

snitches will NOT get their money’s worth. If you WERE hoping for a beach ball bouncing amongst the audience, glowing neon hoops on both sides of the stage, and a cast member dressed up in what looks like a chicken nugget outfit then you’ll definitely walk away with a smile on your face.

That being said, “Potted Potter” is an overall delight to watch, simply because of the performer’s convictions — especially Del, who is a whirlwind of energy and perfect comic timing. Both cast members, as well as the behind-the-scenes creators, primarily believe in their cause, which is spreading the sheer joy of Rowling’s work and keeping it relevant, especially now that no more Harry Potter films OR novels are being created. Although, there is nothing new being highlighted here, the familiarity of the product is what keeps the engine revving. Even if you’re only vaguely familiar with the books or the movies (the books are the main target here) and have only seen one or two of the films, “Potted Potter” is extremely entertaining.

Plus, that Butter Brew is incredibly delicious.

Expensive, but delicious.

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