By Tian Nie
There’s a hint of magic in the air as I huddle under my blanket with my iPad, watching live viral fanfiction from a decade ago. 2009 is a strange time capsule of vaguely recognizable people and uncanny foreshadowing, set at the height of Pottermania. The last Harry Potter book just ended two years ago, the movie series still has another two years before completion, Cursed Child was a decade away from opening in Melbourne, and fans of all ages were desperate for more material. Then a plucky theatre group called StarKid Productions, formed by students at the University of Michigan had an idea – banding together, they created viral YouTube magic out of the void. What do you find when you ferment all the mystique of the Harry Potter series with underbudget student theatre and absurdist American college humour? A Very Potter Musical. It’s a totally awesome, light-hearted, and strangely moving production that will have you laughing from lights up to curtain close.
The show is armed with a witty original script written by Matt Lang, Nick Lang, and Brian Holden, excellent direction by Matt Lang, and a strong cast to pull every gag off. The plot may be based on the Harry Potter wizarding world, but the musical has its own ideas. Each character is an exaggerated caricature of themselves; from the self-centred Draco Malfoy (Lauren Lopez) who rolls into every scene commandeering any furniture available, to the blatantly biased Dumbledore (Dylan Saunders) who yells at the overeager Hermoine (Bonnie Gruesen) at every opportunity. Voldemort, played by Joe Walker, is at his most personable and physically fit here – that six pack is very well defined – while still maintaining his murderous mindset. Indeed, his development of relationships throughout the show was the most touching, and its resolution a moment of catharsis for everyone involved.
The score is also full of original catchy tunes by Darren Criss and A.J. Holmes that will linger inside your head long after the show ends. The opening number may be the strongest, introducing a dizzying amount of characters and information in the span of 10 minutes. The live audience from a decade past is animated and laughing from the first scene, as a young fluffy-haired Darren Criss (you may know him better as Blaine Anderson from Glee, or the serial killer from American Crime Story) laments his life as Harry Potter in the cupboard under the stairs.
The show does have its muggle (non-magical) moments; mic issues here, sound issues there, the camera focusing too close while the audience roars in laughter at something out of frame. The special effects are what you would expect from a shoestring student theatre budget, namely cardboard cut-outs and flashy lights. The set is minimal, no floating candles and moving staircases to be found here. There are some dated references sprinkled here and there, although Zac Efron’s abs endure in their relevancy. For a serious fanatic the timeline may be a bit wibbly-wobbly – he just mentioned a firebolt but that doesn’t appear until Book 3, Quirrell is still alive but he died in Book 1, there’s a Yule ball but that’s in Book 4, and did Harry just say he’s twelve?? – but as with all theatre, there is a need for suspension of disbelief. If Voldemort can tap dance, anything is possible.
As with most old YouTube videos, this behemoth of a show (2.5 hours) is split into 23 slightly-more-manageable 10-minute bite-sized chunks. It’s perfect for spreading the enjoyment out over a week or binging in one sitting. You don’t need to know too much about the original Harry Potter series to find enjoyment here, as the show is very heavy-handed in its introduction and employs marked foreshadowing. If you’re a huge Potterhead – amazing! Be in awe that this show predicted Voldemort’s affair before Cursed Child was even an idea. If you’ve seen the show before, now is a great time for a re-watch. Re-finding this gem in the mountain of content that makes up YouTube is like returning to Hogwarts, a place with ‘wizards and witches and magical beasts’, where ‘everything is magic-cool’. It’s time to embrace your inner nerd child again.
Quarantine entertainment value: 4.5/5
Watch StarKid Productions’ A Very Potter Musical here.