I’m a half decade behind on this, but I finally watched the legendary fan-made musical A Very Potter Musical put on by StarKid Productions, a troupe noteworthy for the talent they bring to musicals with parody-based or otherwise intriguing premises.
Inspired by the praise from both my wife and fellow Earn This writer Brian (read his Starkid retrospective here), I powered through the epic runtime of StarKid’s first show — two and a half hours!? — over the course of a week. I did not regret it.
You’d be hard-pressed to find any fan-made project that surpasses AVPM in terms of the talent and charm involved. It’s a resounding, winning experience that anyone who loves the Harry Potter world, musicals, and quirky humor should really carve out time to experience.
I want to take a couple paragraphs here and break down strengths and weaknesses of the production.
The most compelling strength of the musical — and the thing that makes me really excited to watch future StarKid productions — is the superior songwriting. It’s not quite Sondheim, but the songwriters (led by star Darren Criss) really holds his own. Many of the numbers are mixtape-good, ranging from hysterical (“Different as Can Be”) to rousing (“Voldemort is Going Down”) to emotive (“Harry”)… and occasionally a blend of all three (“Granger Danger”).
What really drivers the play, though, are the hilarious and well-acted caricatures of many of the most beloved characters. The leads are uniformly great, though I have some favorites and least favorites. Draco cast as a petite, baby-faced girl (Lauren Lopez) is a particularly inspired touch, but the snide Dumbledore (Dylan Saunders) and the hissing Voldemort (Joe Walker) absolutely ooze charisma. The most troublesome character for me is the overly campy Snape who drawls through all his lines. I guess any portrayal would have looked bad when Alan Rickman was so good.
The comedy of AVPM works almost astoundingly well. There are some quirky and — to steal Brian’s word — idiosyncratic minds behind StarKid. From absurd asides (“Hufflepuffs are particularly good finders!”) to deconstructive parodies (a fantastic dance number by Voldy after he gets his body back), there’s lots to laugh at here. A few bits fall flat, like some Zac Efron and Wizard of Waverly Place references that will eventually date the show, but the bits grounded in making fun of JK Rowling’s series generally shine. My favorite running gag is Draco’s possibly insane obsession with “Pigfarts,” a wizarding school on Mars.
My biggest disappointment (beyond the lackluster recording quality) is that the first act of the play is much stronger than the second act. Most of the funniest lines and bits come from the opening act, and several plot threads stall out. You can tell the writers lost steam towards the end of the story, as there’s lots of hand-waving and meta-jokes that pad out the script. But the first act is so strong, it’s tough to follow. From the opening number through the first several scenes, we get several of the musical’s best jokes: The odd couple, semi-romantic relationship between Voldemort and Quirrell is brilliant every second it’s on stage, for example.
The thing I’ll remember above all about AVPM is the fierce affection it has for the Harry Potter universe. The absolute high point of the play is the opening number, “Goin’ Back to Hogwarts,” which rapidly introduces us to most of the main characters of the series and their StarKid-ified versions. The repeated refrain of the song is “it’s gonna be totally awesome,” and that optimism and enthusiasm for experience JK Rowling’s story pervades the musical.
I eagerly anticipate the other StarKid musicals, and if I feel so inclined I’ll share my reactions for each one here.