Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is set to disappear from Toronto.
Mirvish Productions announced Sunday it plans to close the stage play based on J.K. Rowling’s characters that opened less than 10 months ago. The wizards take their final bows on July 2 at the CAA Ed Mirvish Theatre.
The end of Harry Potter comes as Canadian live theatre struggles for direction in the wake of extensive COVID-19 closures and a slow recovery. Producers hoped to cast a spell over audiences with a familiar franchise and theatrical spectacle that includes flying actors and impressive pyrotechnics.
But the stage production was a gamble from the start.
Toronto producer David Mirvish said when taking into account ticket sales trends, it became clear that high running costs would make it difficult to keep the show open.
“In other times, it probably would’ve gone longer,” he acknowledged.
“If we hadn’t had to deal with the pandemic, it would have been a different situation.”
Talks began in 2017 to bring “Harry Potter” to Toronto as a two-part play that could be watched over two evenings. At the time, it seemed like the sort of audacious stage show that would be a significant boon for tourism, with successful runs on Broadway, the West End and Melbourne already proven draws.
For producers, Toronto’s staging of Harry Potter cost around $25-million even before opening night for set design, costumes and other preparations. Mirvish invested another $5-million to renovate and retrofit the theatre for the production, installing a gold-rimmed dome, closing in the walls and shrinking the seating layout.
But the pandemic threw a curveball at producers who saw Toronto’s live theatres shuttered just a few months before the show was supposed to open. By the time curtains were raised last year, the book for Harry Potter had been trimmed to a single night’s performance instead of two, which meant ticket sales were effectively cut in half.
And the cost of staging Harry Potter stayed the same, producers say.
A sizable cast of 35 actors and 60 stagehands and crew worked every night, while Mirvish noted that extra rehearsals were required for performers who handled acrobatics and the show’s elaborate effects.
“This is not a show that when it goes away you’ll see easily coming around as a touring production,” he said.
Despite its challenges, Mirvish insists Harry Potter will cross the break-even point by the time it ends its 13-month run. The show will have sold more than 600,000 tickets with over 50 per cent of the audience being first-time theatre attendees, which he considers a win.
“For many people who’ve never been to the theatre, this was their introduction and I’m proud of that,” he said.
What happens inside the Ed Mirvish Theatre in the near future is less clear.
Since it’s already been renovated for this unusual show, Mirvish said he hopes to try a couple of other theatre productions inside the smaller theatre design. For now, however, the stage will remain empty once the magical sets are packed up in July.
“It usually takes about a year [to] find a show that’s appropriate to put in a theatre that closes when you’re not planning to,” he said.
“Every time we do one of these open-ended runs, we know that this is what we’ll be faced with. We build that into our budget [and] assume it’s going to take us months to plan how to use the theatre best again.”