How do Jefferson Turner and Daniel Clarkson condense all 4,224 pages of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter saga into just 70 minutes of stage time? With charm, pluck, and the magic of improvisation: “We’re constantly changing it, constantly trying to keep it fresh for ourselves as well as the audience,” Turner tells EW. “We try to make it so that no two shows are exactly alike.”
Considering Potted Potter‘s long history, that’s pretty remarkable. The lightning-quick Rowling spoof began in 2005 as a five-minute recap of the first five Potter books, created to amuse fans waiting for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince‘s midnight release. The next year, it had morphed into an hour-long show that skewered books 1-6; by 2007, Turner and Clarkson were performing the show across the U.K., seamlessly incorporating Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows into their script just a few days after its release. Its creators left Potted Potter in 2009, but returned for another U.K. tour in 2011 — as well as their first-ever North American shows last year.
After traveling across the U.S., Potted Potter has returned to its original American home: New York City’s Little Schubert Theatre, where it officially begins a second off-Broadway run tonight. (The show began previews May 30.)
Theatergoers can expect a rash of updated pop culture references — including jabs at The Hunger Games and Justin Bieber — as well as humor that aims to please everyone: “It’s very rewarding to see a 35-year-old man and his 8-year-old son both laughing at the same joke,” Turner says.
Of course, it helps that the show’s source material has fairly universal appeal. Clarkson remembers bringing Potter to a remote Arizona theater — “all around us was cactus” — and wondering who on Earth would turn up to see the show. “Yet every day,” he marvels, “these people came, dressed in their wizard robes with their broomsticks. Even in the middle of the desert, Harry Potter is very popular.”
Maybe those fans had heard about one of Potted Potter‘s most notable bits: a Quidditch game that drafts audience volunteers to act as players. As popular as the games are with kids, Turner says that their dads tend to be even bigger fans: “I’ve seen fully grown men pushing children out the way so that they can get to the Quaffle and score a goal. And these aren’t their own kids — these are kids who have just got into their way.”
When they’re victorious, the older gents tend to be pretty pleased with themselves — until it’s pointed out that they “just crushed the dreams of a 7-year-old boy.” Turner, at least, doesn’t see any problem with this — “because having your dreams crushed is very British.”
Potted Potter begins a summer run at the Little Schubert Theater tonight. It closes in New York September 1 and launches another American tour this fall.