Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is set to close in Toronto on July 2 after a thirteen-month run at the CAA Ed Mirvish. I’ve been asked a lot of questions about this online, so I decided to get some answers for readers by interviewing J. Kelly Nestruck, theatre critic for The Globe and Mail (aka myself), about the show for this week’s newsletter.
Will this really be a record run?
Mirvish Productions is projecting that Cursed Child will have played over 425 performances to more than 600,000 audience members by the time it closes. It’s accurate for the producers to say this is the longest run for a professional non-musical play in Toronto history - the previous record having being held by War Horse, which ran 368 performances and recorded 452,811 admissions before closing at the Princess of Wales Theatre in 2012.
So, what about The Mousetrap?
Yes, that Agatha Christie stage whodunnit did run in Toronto for over 9,500 performances in a variety of tiny theatres from 1977 to 2004. But it was a low-budget, non-Equity production for the entire time - which is to say, it did not pay its actors the professional association’s rates. You can quibble with word “professional,” but it’s fair to say Cursed Child exists in a very different category.
Was Cursed Child a success then?
It certainly was by many measures.
Producer David Mirvish expects the multi-million dollar Toronto production, for which the Ed Mirvish Theatre underwent a $5-million renovation, will recoup its investment by the end of its run; it brought big-budget commercial theatre back to the city for the first time since COVID-19 hit; and an estimated 50 per cent of the audience were first-time attendees.
All that said, I think original expectations for Cursed Child were for a longer and more profitable run - expectations that were, of course, set before the pandemic started and for a two-part version of the show that is now only running in London. I was surprised to learn it was closing: I had seen the market was softening for the show (two-for-one deals were start to pop up on Facebook this month) but still expected it would run until next holiday season given Mirvish Productions seemed to plan its 2023-2024 season as if the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre would be out of commission.
How does the Toronto run compare to elsewhere?
There’s not much point comparing the Mirvish run to the ongoing, open-ended runs in New York (where it’s playing in one part since Broadway reopened in fall 2021) or London (where it’s been playing, peak of the pandemic aside, in its original two parts since 2016); those cities have theatre tourism (and just plain tourism) that dwarfs Toronto’s.
Better to look at San Francisco and Melbourne - though it is still a bit apples and oranges given Cursed Child debuted in both those cities in its original two-part version and then switched to the single-performance version during the pandemic. Should we be dividing their pre-pandemic attendance numbers in two to compare?
Cursed Child clearly performed more strongly in Toronto than San Francisco, however, where it ran for 393 performances to just under 500,000 audience members. The show was presented there in its two-part version from October 23, 2019 to March 11, 2020 - and then reopened and ran in the single, three-hour-and-20-minute version seen in Toronto from February 9 to September 11, 2022.
According to Australian news reports, meanwhile, the Melbourne production of Cursed Child will have sold over 1 million tickets to more than 1,300 performances by the time it closes on July 9. I won’t go over its full production history, because it did better any way you slice it. (I think there’s a lot Canadians could learn from the commercial and not-for-profit theatre sectors in Australia, despite the many differences between the countries.)
Was it a good idea for Cursed Child’s producers to rejig the show so it was presented in one very long part?
That’s an interesting question in my mind. Looking at the historical results on Broadway, it seems switching to a single performance gave a big boost to the show’s weekly box-office grosses, which had been declining pre-pandemic. But it also seems obvious to me that this decision limited the length of the show’s run in other cities with fewer potential theatregoers as it needed to play to twice as many individuals each week.
And did JK Rowlings’ views on transgender issues hurt Cursed Child’s box-office potential?
It’s hard to say if Rowlings comments - which many view as transphobic and have been documented by GLAAD - are affecting her wizarding world spinoffs. The recent Fantastic Beasts movies have underperformed at the box office, but the new Hogwarts Legacy video game has sold more copies than expected. Meanwhile, there’s been a big-budget television adaptation of the original Harry Potter books just announced.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Speaking of long-running shows...
Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story will celebrate its 400th performance during its run at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria, B.C., which starts tonight and continues until May 14. Congratulations to all involved in this musical by Ben Caplan, Christian Barry and Hannah Moscovitch, produced by 2btheatre.
And speaking of 2b, back in its hometown of Halifax, the theatre company is wrapping up its SPRINGboard festival this week - so last chance to see its presentation of Daniel MacIvor’s solo show Let’s Run Away, directed by Daniel Brooks (whose production of The Seagull just opened in Toronto at Soulpepper), at the Bus Stop Theatre.
Toronto company debuts with clones and cookies
That Theatre Company, a new - you guessed it - theatre company run by actor and Craig’s Cookies founder Craig Pike, launches with a pay-what-you-can production of Caryl Churchill’s A Number running April 21 to May 7 at St Anne’s Centre in Toronto. And, apparently, if you pay more than $30 before April 21, you’ll get a dozen cookies with your ticket.
The cloning-related sci-fi play stars Pike and fellow former Shaw Festival ensemble member Jim Mezon - and is directed by Severn Thompson. If I can offer one word of advice to Pike: Rebrand now before your company becomes any more established. Toronto already has too many nebulously named, hard-to-Google theatre companies such as the Theatre Centre and The Company Theatre.
What else is opening this week
Teenage Dick, American playwright Mike Lew’s popular transposition of Richard III into a high-school setting, opens in previews tonight at Calgary’s Alberta Theatre Projects and runs to April 30 in a production directed by Jenna Rodgers.
At the same time, Shakespeare’s very own “foul bunch-back’d toad” Richard III is on stage in Calgary in a Shakespeare Company/Hit & Myth co-production directed by former ATP artistic director Vanessa Porteous (to April 29).
Both productions feature actors with disabilities as their Richards: Dylan Thomas-Bouchier and Bruce Horak.
In Calgary counter-programming: Jimmy Buffett’s Escape to Margaritaville, a musical voted into the current Theatre Calgary season by Albertans, opens in previews tonight and runs to May 13. You’ll be unsurprised to learn the audience advisory includes “references to and consumption of alcohol and drugs.”
What the Globe and Mail is reviewing this week
Maggie, a new musical about a single mom with songs by Scottish-Canadian country musician Johnny Reid, Matt Murray and Bob Foster, opens on Friday at Theatre Aquarius in Hamilton, Ontario, where it runs until May 6. Director Mary Francis Moore’s production is backed by producer Michael Rubinoff (Come From Away) - and will also a run at the Charlottetown Festival in PEI form June 21 to September 2.
Paint Me This House of Love, a new play by Chelsea Woolley about a father and a daughter reconnecting after 25 years of estrangement, opens on Thursday at Tarragon Theatre and runs to May 7. The production is directed by artistic director Mike Payette.