J.K. Rowling hopes Harry Potter play goes global
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J.K. Rowling hopes Harry Potter play goes global

Author hopes the iconic wizard, now middle-aged and recast for the stage, brings new audiences to the theater

Writer J.K. Rowling talks to media on arrival at the gala performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, at the Palace Theatre in central London, Saturday, July 30, 2016. (Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
Writer J.K. Rowling talks to media on arrival at the gala performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, at the Palace Theatre in central London, Saturday, July 30, 2016. (Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

LONDON (AP) — London is under Harry Potter’s spell once more — and J.K. Rowling hopes the rest of the world will eventually follow.

The stage play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” had its gala opening Saturday in London’s West End and is already the theater event of the year.

Rowling joined director John Tiffany, playwright Jack Thorne and the cast onstage to receive a raucous standing ovation at the end of the two-part show at London’s Palace Theatre, where it’s scheduled to run at least until December 2017.

If the boy wizard’s creator has her way, that will only be the beginning.

“I’d like as many Potter fans to see it as possible,” Rowling said on the red carpet before the show, as fans cheered and poked camera phones over crowd barriers in hope of getting a picture.

There’s already talk of a Broadway run, and Rowling said: “I’d like it to go wider than that.”

Co-producer Sonia Friedman said she had big hopes for the show, which has been more than two years in the making.

“Hopefully many countries at some point will get to see it,” Friedman said. “But it’s a big piece of theater, it’s a big endeavor. You can’t just turn this around overnight.”

The play has been in previews at the theater for almost eight weeks, but few details of the plot have leaked (though those seeking spoilers online will find them).

People leaving the show are handed buttons urging them to #keepthesecrets — and most have complied.

Tiffany said spilling the play’s secrets was “like unwrapping children’s Christmas presents for them in November, in front of their eyes. And why would anyone want to do that?”

Rowling said fans have “been amazing, they’ve been incredible.”

“It is the most extraordinary fandom, so I’m kind of not surprised, because they didn’t want to spoil it for each other,” she said. “But I am so happy we got here without ruining everything.”

The script of the play is being published Sunday, with a global print run in the millions, so future audiences will have more opportunities to know the plot in advance if they choose.

From left to right, producer Sonia Friedman, writers Jack Thorne, author J.K. Rowling, director John Tiffany and Sir Colin Callender, pose for photographers on arrival at the gala performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, at the Palace Theatre in central London, Saturday, July 30, 2016. (Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)
From left to right, producer Sonia Friedman, writers Jack Thorne, author J.K. Rowling, director John Tiffany and Sir Colin Callender, pose for photographers on arrival at the gala performance of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, at the Palace Theatre in central London, Saturday, July 30, 2016. (Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

Without entering spoiler territory, it’s safe to say that the play has much to make fans rejoice. This is both an eighth installment in the Potter saga worthy of Rowling’s seven novels, and a stage spectacle to delight even the uninitiated.

The script — written by Thorne from a story by Rowling, Thorne and Tiffany — picks up 19 years after the end of the final novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Harry — the orphaned boy whose destiny was to save the wizarding world — is now an overworked civil servant at the Ministry of Magic, feeling the approach of middle age. His younger son, Albus Severus, is a reluctant pupil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, struggling with the burden of his family’s fame.

Fans who know the saga inside out are likely to appreciate the teeming detail of the play, which runs for five hours over two parts. It captures Rowling’s richly textured magical world, with its byzantine mythology, complex history and array of fantastical creatures.

The plot is a rollicking adventure in which Albus’s attempt to right a wrong goes awry. But it also has adult things to say about loss and grief, and about the complexities of friendship and family love.

The cast is anchored by the adult trio of Jamie Parker as Harry, Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger and Paul Thornley as Ron Weasley. There’s also a touching performance from Sam Clemmett as Albus, and an engaging, career-making turn from Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy, the surprising son of Harry’s childhood enemy Draco Malfoy.

The actors draw both laughter and tears from audience members. But it’s the work of the production crew that elicits gasps, with illusions that appear simultaneously simple and inexplicable.

Characters levitate, transform and disappear, in magic that feels hand-crafted rather than high-tech, although a great deal of technical expertise has gone into it.

Buoyed by the work of movement director Steven Hoggett and composer Imogen Heap, the show captures the warm spirit of the world Rowling has created — one that has moved from page to screen to stage with its magic intact.

Rowling — who wore golden winged shoes, reminiscent of the golden snitch she created for the magical game quidditch — said she hoped the show would attract “people who have never been to the theater before.”

“I would be so proud to think that kids from my kind of background, who didn’t come from particularly theatergoing families, learn what theater is all about through this show,” Rowling said. “That would be an incredible thing.”

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press.

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