If you were one of those kids (or adults) who devoured the Harry Potter series, memorizing every spell and learning every grade you could get on your O.W.L.'s, you'll love Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience -- A Parody by Dan and Jeff.
But if you've never touched the books, don't worry -- you'll probably love it too.
"We had a father thank us after the show because he could finally understand what his daughters were talking about at the dinner table," said Daniel Clarkson, one of the stars of the popular stage show coming to The Paramount Center Mainstage for three weeks starting Sept. 17. "He thought 'snitch' was a curse word."
In Potted Potter, Clarkson and his on-stage partner Jeff Turner speed through the entirety of the expansive fantasy series, condensing all seven books and 4,100 pages into a breezy, 70-minute show.
Potted Potter started (or, more appropriately, was conjured) in 2005, when a bookstore in London hired Clarkson and Turner to develop a 15-minute version of the first five Potter books to entertain people waiting in line for the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
"I've always been a huge fan," said Clarkson. "I was going to say that I'm a closet geek but you can't consider yourself a closet geek when you're touring in a Harry Potter show."
The street show evolved into a full-length one that toured
"Apparently, Harry Potter is quite popular," said Clarkson. "Who knew?"
Turner, the straight man in the classic British double act style, plays Harry, while Clarkson plays the rest of the characters. Aided by an endless assortment of props and costumes, Clarkson plays close to 90 characters throughout the course of the show (he jokes they couldn't hire more actors because the dragon from the Goblet of Fire section is too expensive).
Clarkson estimates the show is about 80 percent scripted, with ad-libs and interactive riffs with audience members filling out the rest of the show. He says that in this way, each show is different, but that one of the highlights is always the Quidditch match involving audience participants.
"We've only lost four children so far," said Clarkson.
The audience is known to range several generations. Clarkson said that at a recent show, a group of 8-year-olds dressed up as wizards for a birthday party and sat in front of a separate bachelor party -- also dressed as wizards.
"We say from about 6 years old to Dumbledore's age," said Clarkson. "And he's really old."
Clarkson credits Monty Python as an influence, relating a story about how he told his father that his teacher said he needed to watch Life of Brian for history class. He also references This Is Spinal Tap for introducing him to the hilarious world of improvisational theater.
But Potted Potter really is a rare modern piece of family entertainment, which Clarkson says is a throwback to the days of vaudeville.
"We originally thought of it as an adult show, but we realized that they were family books, and we didn't want to lose that," said Clarkson. "It's much more satisfying to us to work harder to make people laugh without having to use sexual innuendoes or curse words."
And what does the Harry Potter camp have to think of the show (which is forthrightly billed as an "unauthorized parody")? Clarkson said J.K. Rowling's legal team have seen the show and loved it, but that he's never heard anything from the author herself.
However, he said that at one show in Edinburgh, a woman who worked at the box office came backstage in tears. She had turned a woman away by saying the show was sold out, realizing afterward that it may have been Rowling herself.
"Anywhere in the world, we have one seat for her in case she shows up," said Clarkson. "Though if she did, I'd probably freeze on stage and then ask her to sign all my books."
Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience -- A Parody by Dan and Jeff will be at The Paramount Center Mainstage in Boston Sept. 17 through Oct. 6. Tickets from $39.99 to $79.99 are available online at paramountboston.org or by calling 617-824-8000.
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