Wizards Enter Stage Left
Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone: the Musical
I wasn't certain what I would be doing for it, but when given the option to write a fourth research paper for a final or do a creative project, I opted for the project. I had some ideas that eventually contributed to the ultimate outcome of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Musical. Having written fan fiction myself for about five years with Harry Potter stories in the wings I never wrote, I was thinking of actually either writing one of them up or analyzing the phenomenon of Harry Potter fan fiction, perhaps exploring why certain pairings were popular outside canon (HHr, DHr, DMHP) as well as plot ideas (The Marriage Law, Original Characters accepted to Hogwarts, Truth or Dare). Another option was, after seeing the choir in the third film again, looking into music at Hogwarts and what choir rehearsals might be like; ultimately another fan fiction idea. There was also an idea I remember lazily thinking up during a high school conducting class one day where a student's baton was actually a wand and somehow brought them to Hogwarts, and I came very close to doing it because it dealt with both fan fiction and music. In the end, however, the idea for a musical won out after stumbling over a similar theater project from high school (turning a published work into a musical) and having been involved in directing my last two high school musicals. I knew the script layouts and song forms well enough, as well staging and show elements that could make the show a reality. With this, I extended the basics of this simple project and took off.
As with any project, I ran into problems. Where exactly do I begin and end this thing? I researched the idea of a Harry Potter musical first, finding that there are ideas currently in the works for a Harry Potter musical that encompasses all seven books. All seven! I have no idea how a production usually limited to three hours in length would be able to compact such a massive, detail-oriented series with a smattering of subplots into a three-hour show on stage. That's when I made the definitive decision to only write a musical for the Sorcerer's Stone. This way, we're all introduced to the world slowly, being spoon-fed these new ideas and the lives of witches and wizards at the same time as Harry, allowing us as an audience to identify with him in this way throughout the show (which is always something you'd like to have in your musical).
I also decided that I was not against using some of the musical themes from John Williams' famed score, but I was against the idea of relying on it entirely. Hedwig's Theme is the musical identity of this series; we can all hear it playing in our heads somewhere when we think about Harry Potter, even if only in terms of the films. I also wasn't going with the awful, awful, awful idea of taking popular songs on the radio and just rewriting the lyrics. No, if this were a legit project in the works for a production, the creators were not going to take "Welcome to the Jungle" and make turn it into "Welcome to Hogwarts." They would use some of the most popular themes from the first soundtrack, and at least half of them would be entirely original with the possibility of some of the themes underlying the melody line just to tie it into the show smoothly. I still never came to the decision as to whether or not Harry's big solo at the Mirror of Erised should be based off Hedwig's Theme or if the Introduction should, but I thought rather recently of combing the two – introducing the theme in a short song in the beginning of the show when Harry is left with the Dursleys, allowing him to pick up the melody himself in the cupboard under the stairs, and then expand on that once he is in front of the Mirror with his family experiencing them for the first time.
More issues arose, a lot for the sake of time and the limits of what was feasibly possible on stage for a Broadway show. For instance, each scene had to have a pretty centralized set, as multiple set changes in a single scene are difficult and rarely done at all. So, when presented with the problem of wanting to explore the different classes of Hogwarts with Harry, Ron, and Hermione in just one scene, it became a challenge. However, at some of my classmate's suggestions, backdrops would be exceedingly helpful here, or just having an overview class where each professor briefly discusses and demonstrates the kinds of magic that will be studied by the first years in their respectable classes. I actually liked this idea very much, despite it being original. That seemed to be the biggest issue of them all – staying true to the books. Anyone can tell you that you have to cut and compact certain things in books for musicals or movies, as we see in the films when Neville is given the majority of Dobby's tasks in the fourth and fifth films (Gillyweed, Room of Requirement). I didn't go this far in as to seeing if I would cut entire roles out (as the films did with Peeves); I'd at least put in for a cameo unless it was absolutely unnecessary. There were other changes done for time and space sake, too, such as cutting the Forbidden Forest detention where Harry encounters Voldemort for the first time. Instead, we have him, Ron, Hermione, Draco, and McGonagall on the Astronomy Tower where they see a dark figure flee into the Forest, and while I admit I hate to lose the close proximately and danger associated with it when Harry is so close to Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, I like the change for keeping time in order (Sorry, Firenze). Another notable change might be doing the Dr. Jekyll/ Mr. Hyde approach with Quirrell and Voldemort in the end scene by simply making them the same person (again, thank you, peers), but I did love the whole idea of Voldemort's face being under Quirrell's turban the entire book. It gave the seemingly meaningless article of clothing an actual purpose!
As far as analyzing the text through this means of musical theater, I think that it falls somewhere between the books and the films when it comes to reader involvement. Obviously a reader will only be able to enjoy the series to the fullest extent by reading through the books themselves, creating their own unique vision of Hogwarts and the characters in their heads. It's a very personal experience to be able to do that, to be included in Harry's thoughts even from a third-person perspective. However, I feel that the films simply rehash and show it to us, and we lose that element of interaction with the characters. Our thought process is lessened because we know we are watching a film ad don't have to think as much to envision the world – it is presented to us in a single image what might take us two or three pages to read. I find that extremely disappointing, yet the convenience factor is nice to have.
With presenting Harry Potter as a musical, I feel that the interaction between the audience and the work is acceptable. You are being shown the world of Harry Potter, yes, but it is alive, right in front of you, in the very same room. The people are actually there, and through the songs sung by a wide variety of characters we are familiar with and enjoy, they are able to sing their motivations and desires to us from center stage, giving us more insight to the characters. The songs help to keep us as an audience engaged in the progress of the story – something I believe is far more entertaining than simply watching the story on a flat television screen with limited camera views.
As a musical, the text comes alive in dialogue and song. We lose some of the personality of reading it for ourselves and some of the convenience of watching it from the comfort of our living room, but for those of us who have experienced a live show on stage, we know that the experience is truly one of its own, one that you will be impressed by and walk away from in awe.