Saturday June 2, 2012

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- It was almost a little like magic, the way it all got started. But, hey, when it comes to Harry Potter, what isn’t?

On that day in London in 2005, Dan Clarkson was trying to find someone who could be part of a short Harry Potter comedy skit he was putting together to mark the release of the sixth book in J.K. Rowling’s hit series.

In Covent Garden, he happened to come across Jeff Turner, on his first day of trying his hand at a bit of street comedy.

"I was looking for a Harry Potter, and saw Jeff, and there you go," Clarkson said.

That was the start of a beautiful friendship, and more importantly for theater-goers, the start of "Potted Potter," a 70-minute parody of the entire series that has played to thousands in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada, and is now making its U.S. debut.

It’s been in previews at the Little Shubert Theatre since mid-May, with the official opening night set for Sunday. The New York City run will go through Aug. 12, and a national tour is being planned.

The show, which bills itself as "The Unauthorized Harry Experience" is a fast-paced, tongue-firmly-planted-in-cheek romp through Rowling’s seven books about the boy wizard and his adventures.


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Turner, 31, wears a pair of black spectacles in his go-round as Harry, and Clarkson, 33, puts on a series of wigs, accents and adornments to portray a host of other characters, from Harry’s best friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, to his arch-enemy Lord Voldemort.

There’s a near-constant patter between the two men, and even some audience participation in the form of an attempt at a game of Quidditch, the popular sport in Harry’s wizarding world.

Clarkson and Turner are quick to say the show’s take on Harry Potter comes from a place of love -- Clarkson has been a longtime fan of the series, and Turner, who hadn’t read them when he and Clarkson met, became an admirer.

"I’d kind of resisted it," Turner said of the series. But once he started, "I was very much surprised how much I enjoyed it."

Its worldwide popularity is a boon for the show, which as a parody benefits from an audience familiar with the source material.

"The first step of the job’s already done for you, people will always laugh at things that are familiar to them," Turner said.

At the same time, though, the two say they’ve tried to create something that even those unfamiliar with the series can enjoy, something based on the comedy and the interaction between the men, who claim comedy influences ranging from Monty Python to "Saturday Night Live."

"A lot of what we’ve got is this double-act and it’s the relationship between the two of them onstage, and you could almost have thrown anything at them and there would still be that relationship and that comedy of them bickering and arguing and sort of getting things wrong," Clarkson said.

Asked about whether or not Rowling knew of the show, the men said some people connected to her had seen it. They’re prepared for her wanting to see it, though -- there’s a seat saved for her at every performance.

That’s because, they say, there’s a story going around that a woman turned away from a sold-out performance one time in Edinburgh, Scotland, may have been the author. Rowling has a home in Edinburgh.

Of course, if she ever did turn up, Clarkson and Turner aren’t quite sure how they would react.

"The woman is a legend, I think that’s fair to say, and I don’t say that about many people, just about myself and her," Clarkson said with a laugh.

"It would be very, very odd to have her in the front row, it would be like royalty," Turner said.