'Potted Potter' parody full of tricks in homage to the Hogwarts gang

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James Percy would like to wave his magic wand and see a familiar face appear right before his rounded spectacles.

Mr. Percy portrays the world's best-known wizard, Harry Potter, in "Potted Potter -- The Unauthorized Harry Experience," the parody created by Olivier Award-nominated actors Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. The two-man show is in the midst of an American tour that's about to park its broomsticks at the Byham Theater, with Mr. Percy as Harry and Delme Thomas in all of the other roles as they wrangle the seven mega-selling books by J.K. Rowling down to 70 minutes.

"There is the story that J.K. Rowling came along to see the show one time, and it was sold out," Mr. Percy said by phone from West Lafayette, Ind., a tour stop where the Purdue Quidditch team was to be in attendance that night. "The girl at the box office told J.K. Rowling that she wasn't able to get a seat, and when the girl realized what she had done, she was in floods of tears. Everyone couldn't believe it. Now, we make sure that wherever the show goes, there is always one seat saved, should J.K. Rowling wish to turn up."

With brisk sales here, "Potted Potter" added a seventh show, at 5 p.m. Saturday.

If the creator of the Potter-verse were to make an appearance, she would have the opportunity to become involved in a game of Quidditch, "Potted"-style. It's one of the ways the actors call on audience members to participate.

"We hoist all of the audience members up into the air, and we fly them all around, and if you believe that ...," he said with a chuckle. "Yes, there is a live game of Quidditch, but I don't want to say too much about it."

Audiences come to "Potted Potter" dressed as favorite characters and game for anything. The Percy-Thomas team landed off-Broadway in May for three months before hitting the road and ping-ponging across the United States.

Where: Byham Theater, Downtown.
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday; 2, 5 and 8 p.m. Saturday; and 1 and 6:30 p.m. next Sunday.
Tickets: $45-$75; trustarts.org or 412-456-6666.

Asked about the tour's zig-zag route from California to Pittsburgh to Texas, he laughed and said, "Clearly, our tour booker has never looked at a map of the United States. Ever. I don't know what's happened."

Despite the travel without benefit of an apparition spell or an instant-transportation portkey, seeing America has been one of the perks of playing Harry. Another is the gig itself. The Doncaster, England, native trained as an actor before branching out into stand-up and improv comedy. He has performed in "Hairspray" in the U.S. and "Julius Caesar" in the U.K. and has been the resident comedian on the world's largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas.

"I get to stretch my legs on all of those because no two shows are ever the same," he said of "Potted Potter." "For us, it makes it so much fun, because we get to play around with the audience and what happens that night. It's great to be able to be that free. It's funny, really. We get to just muck around until immigration realizes what we are doing and kicks us out."

With "Potted Potter," he's getting to know America city by city and recently was in Nashville.

"I just had to buy cowboy boots. That was a necessity. Now I'm walking around like an awkward British cowboy, which is very strange, but I'm embracing it."

Mr. Percy grew up on a steady diet of the books and movies -- he gives his age as four years older than Daniel Radcliffe's 24 -- and he knows his stuff, but he's still amazed and appreciative at the level of fandom he has seen in his travels. He said it's perhaps more avid in the States. "In Britain, we're a little more reserved or shy about things. Americans are like, 'No, this is it, I'm a Harry Potter fan and proud.' That's great. We love it."

He has noticed trends among fans as he moves about the country. For instance, before each show, and without the aid of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry's magical Sorting Hat, fans may sign a board indicating which of Hogwarts' student houses they have chosen as their own.

"That board gets filled up very quickly -- all the audience know whether they're a Hufflepuff or a Gryffindor. Surprisingly enough, the Hufflepuffs are very proud. You would think they wouldn't be [but] it's nice to have some Hufflepuff love," he said of the house with perhaps the fewest mentions in the "Harry Potter" books.

Whether you are a hard-core fan or just casually acquainted with Harry, there's one thing Mr. Percy wants to make perfectly clear: "We are very aware that we are treading on sort of hallowed ground with it. It's definitely an homage to Potter rather than [mocking] it."

With seven books and 70 minutes, there's no way to cover all the things the actors would like to or that fans want to see, but they pack in "everything we find particularly funny," Mr. Percy said. One of the moments the wild and wacky sprint gets a little loose and the actors stretch their improv skills is during the Triwizard Tournament, in the showdown between Harry and Voldemort.

"Another one of my favorites is how Voldemort's snake Nagini makes an appearance. I won't give the game away, but it has me, even after doing the shows hundreds of times now, it has me laughing every time," Mr. Percy said.

"Once the show starts, it's like a roller coaster. There's no stopping. And because there's just the two of us out there, there's no place to hide. ... It's kind of strap yourself in, and here we go."

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.

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