Gettin’ Muggle Wit It

Discovery Times Square is more like a time portal than an exhibition space.  With its knack for presenting shows that flawlessly harmonize history, culture and spectacle, Discovery Times Square allows New Yorkers to walk through ancient worlds and alternate universes without ever having to step into an airport.  On April 5 the world of muggles and wizards invaded the Big Apple as Harry Potter: The Exhibition opened at Discovery Times Square, marking its final North American Stop before the train to Hogwarts goes international. 

In June 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in a series of seven novels written by British author J.K. Rowling, was released.  Its tremendous popularity spurred the ultimate 20th century homage – a film adaptation.  In 2001, Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and the rest of the cast brought the characters to life onscreen and muggle-mania erupted.  In the last decade, fans of the series have watched these child actors grow into young adults and contributed to a franchise that is worth billions.  July 2011 signifies an end of an era as the last Harry Potter film will be released and the fates of the characters that have enraptured millions of devoted followers will be revealed.  Harry Potter: The Exhibition is an homage in its own right – a walk down memory lane, literally.

The exhibition is brought to fruition through the partnership of Global Experience Specialists (GES) and Warner Bros. Consumer Products.  GES is a leading provider of event, exhibition and retail marketing services.  Warner Bros. Consumer Products is a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Entertainment Company and is one of the foremost global merchandising and licensing organizations. In 2009, the exhibition made its world premiere in Chicago; following its debut, it travelled to Boston, Toronto and Seattle.  The timing could not be more felicitous for Harry Potter: The Exhibition to be arriving in New York City; Daniel Radcliffe is blocks away at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre playing the lead character in the 50th anniversary revival of How To Succeed In Business Without Trying.  Like the other exhibits that have passed through Discovery Times Square, Harry Potter: The Exhibition scoops the visitors up and drops them off in the magical world created by the producers, set decorators, costume, graphic, prosthetics, make-up and props designers of the Harry Potter films.  Presented in nine connecting sections, the exhibit is an intricate, multifaceted exploration into the creative nuances of moviemaking. 

The show begins with the Sorting Hat, the famed headpiece that proclaims which house the new arrivals at Hogwarts will be placed into.  Volunteers come forth, and like the movie the hat is placed on their heads, comes alive, assesses the individuals’ personality and assigns them to either Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin.  But the Sorting Hat does have a bit of assistance, before the dormant hat is placed on the volunteer’s head; the volunteer expresses which house they prefer.  Cute and witty, it is an appropriate introduction into the universe of Harry Potter and Hogwarts.  Next the group enters The Pre-Show, an eight screen montage of the Harry Potter films.  The video mosaic culminates with the whistle to the Hogwarts Express being heard and the wall of the Pre-Show rising to reveal a replica of the train that takes the students to Hogwarts. A colossal vision to behold, the replica along with the mist that accompanies it gives the audience the sense that they are about to embark on a journey of sight, sound and emotions. 

After the Pre-Show, the exhibition truly begins.  Guests are led past a gallery of portraits and the Fat Lady, the guardian of the Gryffindor area of the castle/school, into the third installment of the exhibition, the Gryffindor Common Room.   Gryffindor is the house that Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, the series principle characters, belong to.  In this area the audience views the house colors (scarlet and gold), Harry’s glasses and wand, Ron’s monogrammed sweater and the Marauder’s Map.  Past the Gryffindor Common Room are the dormitories where the visitors can view more of the wardrobe and garner an understanding of the actors’ journey growing from children to young adults as the clothing shows their physical growth from the first film to the last.  The fourth set are the classrooms – displays of the props and costumes of the Potions, Divinations, Defense Against the Dark Arts as well as a recreation of the Herbology greenhouse.  This is one of three areas in which the touching of props is encouraged – visitors can pull a squealing Mandrake from its potted roots. 

Once out of the classroom area, the tour goes outside the grounds of Hogwarts into the Forbidden Forest – the audience can get up close and personal with the Hungarian Horntail Dragon, a Centaur and a Thestral.  Also displayed are Buckbeak the Hippogriff and additional costuming from the film.  The Forbidden Forest leads to Hagrid’s Hut, which is actually located on the outskirts of the forest in the book and film series.  This oversize room contains Hagrid’s clothing, the Monster Book of Monsters as well as a mammoth chair that visitors can sit in.   Quidditch is the sport of choice for wizards and is the next section of the exhibit complete with Quidditch equipment, a Nimbus 2000 broom, the Golden Snitch used in all the movies and uniforms from the different houses.  If a guest is feeling athletic, they are invited to toss a Quaffle around and try to score a point or two. The exhibit takes a dark turn as the next segment is dedicated to the darker elements of the films.  On display are the Angel of Death Statue, robes, costumes and masks of Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters.  The tour of the enchanting world of Hogwarts and its inhabitants ends in grand fashion with the Great Hall.  The Great Hall is a setting that plays a major role in the film, visitors will view props and costumes from the Yule Ball, Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore’s costumes and wands as well as Dobby, the house elf, and Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore’s phoenix.

The exhibitions build in excitement and education with each setting seemingly more fascinating and fabulous than the previous one.   The price for admission for Harry Potter: The Exhibition is $25.00 for adults and $19.50 for children ages 4-12; an audio tour is available for $7.00.  The items of the exhibit are labeled with numbers and information about the artifact, with the audio tour the visitor can learn more information about the prop by the people that actually manufactured it.  Both the price for admission and the audio tour are worth every penny.  This exhibit is a must see for anyone that is a fan of the Harry Potter series or anyone that is a true movie buff.  I have never read J.K. Rowling’s books and I have not watched the Harry Potter film series in its entirety, but I found Harry Potter: The Exhibition to be a very enriching experience.  The concern to make these fictional characters and settings believable and the attention to the minutest detail is amazing.  When I arrived at Discovery Times Square, I was a muggle novice; I left feeling as if I had known and grown with the cast (human and non-human) as well as any Harry Potter fan and will be eagerly anticipating seeing how it all ends when the last film is released in July.   Harry Potter: The Exhibition, leaves New York City September5, go and indulge the wizard in you.

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