Potted Potter Crams the Harry Potter Series Into 70 Minutes Onstage

I'm a muggle, to be sure. The Harry Potter series, whether in book or film incarnation, never really grabbed me, despite its nearly universal appeal to young and old alike.

Sure, I saw Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone, the first movie entry, in 2001. I had one of those nifty free tickets for a private screening where just a few journalists are sprinkled throughout the theater.

As for actually sitting down and reading any of J.K. Rowling's seven volumes about the boy wizard...seriously? Who has the time to invest in its 4,175 combined, eye-straining pages, let alone stand on queue for a pre-Kindle hard copy--especially for books completely devoid of adult sexual situations and nudity?

Recognizing that time-sucking dilemma, former BBC Television hosts Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner came up with the idea in 2005 for a spot of entertainment for those who would otherwise be compelled to stand in line for hours at the local bookshoppe (that's the British word for bookstore.)

Both also improvisational actors, Clarkson and Turner transformed the unspeakably successful collection into Potted Potter, a distilled stage presentation that sucks up a mere 70 minutes of our precious, precious time. Since then, the show has become an internationally acclaimed Potter fan favorite.

"We get a lot of people who come dressed up for the show, in costume," Potted Potter actor James Percy says. "It turns out, the show very much ends up being a Rocky Horror-type of experience. It's really very culty."

Percy performs the hour-and-change evening of story, song, and funny wigs with co-improv'er, Delme Thomas, covering material from the inaugural Philosopher's Stone to the Deathly Hallows denouement. Together they portray Dumbledore, Albus, Draco, Ron, Hermione and many, many others. From Hannah Abbott to Blaise Zabini, no fewer than 360 various Potter characters are channeled throughout the course of the show. Percy assures those lacking in Potter fluency that it's not just one, long, inside Slytherin joke.

"All you really need to know is that Harry Potter was a boy wizard," Percy says. "I think we're all pretty much up-to-speed with that.

"It's the kind of show that really relies on the audience coming on this journey with us," he adds, deftly placing the onus for my own entertainment back in my own damn lap.

"A lot of the comedy comes from watching two guys on stage, trying frantically to get this very worshipped material done in 70 minutes."

One might think some performance-enhancing assistance from Slug & Jiggers Apothecary might be required to successfully accomplish such a task. But Percy says the secret to his speedy delivery is pure and simple.

"I try to get as much sleep as possible," he swears pristinely. "And a lot of coffee." He was calling from a Starbuck's when we chatted.

Apparently adept at doing many things with a quickness, Percy says he completed drama school training, which normally would eat up three years, in just one year. What other tasks does he perform more quickly than most people?

"It was very, very nonstop, very much like the show," Percy replies, tastefully dodging my sad attempt to insinuate an adult sexual situation into the source material.

One can't help but wonder what Rowling might say about her life's work being scrunched like a '93 Toyota Cressida in a car compacter. How might she react? Would she perhaps respond in her own words, with this quote from Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix?:

"I don't care! I've had enough! I've seen enough, I want out, I want out, I want it to end, I don't care anymore!"

Calm down, J.K. It's just 70 minutes.

Story continues on the next page.

Rowling has yet to get Potted, reportedly, but it's not that she hasn't tried.

"The story goes, funnily enough, that at a show a few years ago in Edinborough, someone came along to try to get a seat at the last minute. The box office girl told the person, 'I'm sorry but this show is sold out.'"

After the show, the mortified cast and crew realized that the woman who asked for that seat was, indeed, Rowling herself.

"The girl, actually, was distraught; she was in floods of tears about it," Percy says with sublime forgiveness.

Since then, Potted Potter's people have borrowed a page from former Oilers coach Jerry Glanville's playbook. In the late '80s, Glanville thoughtfully and religiously reserved one seat for Elvis Presley in the always sold-out Astrodome, in the event The King ever wanted to watch a Houston NFL team win a game.

"Now we always save one seat back, for every show, wherever we play in the world," Percy a-day-late-and-dollar-shortly says.

They best save two seats at the Wortham, just in case. And expect Elvis to bring his own refreshments.

Brilliant Lecture Series presents Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience - A Parody by Dan and Jeff at Wortham Center's Cullen Theater, November 26 through December 1. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday, 1 and 4 p.m. Friday, 4 and 7 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 7 p.m. Wortham Center, 501 Texas Avenue. For information visit brilliantlectures.org or call 832-487-7041. $48.49 to $108.49.

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