****.5 STARS

By Bec Johnston

The world of Harry Potter is a rich and vibrant one – a cultural phenomenon so continuing, so ever-present, that to some, Hogwarts feels much like a second home. Harry Potter fans engage with the source material with a fervor and enthusiasm that crosses all mediums; from books, to film, stage productions and back again. There is much to feast on if you are a HP fan looking beyond the original source, and indeed, some of the most well-known off-shoots in the arena are in fact fanmade parodies, like ‘A Very Potter Musical’ and ‘Potter Puppet Pals’. It is a testament to the timeless and transcendental nature of these characters that their fans are still finding new ways to tell their stories two decades after the first novel was published.

‘Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts Musical Parody’ continues this hallowed trend, created by a couple of LA comedians (Zach Reino and Chris Grace) before being toured in the States, the UK, and now here in Melbourne, where the reins have been taken by local company, Salty Theatre.

This particular production has been entangled in a web of misfortune – initially scheduled to open 12 months ago, it had the unenviable task of shutting up shop while Melbourne endured one hard lockdown after another, casting ‘Petrificus Totalus’ on the arts industry. But, not unlike Fawkes the Phoenix, Salty Theatre has emerged victorious from the ashes.

What could have been this production’s downfall instead became one of its great strengths. Its unavoidable hiatus only seemed to create more hype around its eventual opening – and that excitement was keenly felt amongst the audience, and certainly illustrated by the fact that the company has now added a raft of new dates to meet the new, ‘COVID-normal’, frenzied demand.

Theatre Works has worked tirelessly to create a safe and enjoyable experience for showgoers in these new times. This production can be viewed from plexiglass booths set above the stage, creating a novel, virus-safe kind of theatre in the round. Salty Theatre has capitalized on this set-up – each booth decorated in one of the four house colours, inviting you to stake a claim in the action before the show has even started. Though I may have been a Ravenclaw at heart when I sat down, after an hour in the Slytherin booth, egged on and engaged with by an irreverent cast, I may have left with a curious new fondness for snakes.

The company were all powerhouses. The many musical numbers threaded through the story demanded much of each performer, and they expertly rose to the challenge. The songs were clever and catchy, traversing genre with real agility – from soppy love ballad to ‘8 Mile’ freestyle dissing. Combined with some subtle but effective choreography, performed with the highest of energy, each song pulls you further and further into the magical world the ensemble works to create within the constraints of a relatively short runtime.

Each cast member did a commendable job transforming some truly ubiquitous characters; Tom Riddle (the Dark Lord himself), Professor Dumbledore, Hagrid, Moaning Myrtle, along with some clever, show-specific creations – Genevieve Gryffindor, Muffin Rows and Derald Bacon. The characters were distinct and charming, the cast working in impressive unity whilst also making space for each person to shine.

Whether it was Alex Donnelly’s mysteriously funny rockstar Tom Riddle who was just a little too into his snake, Jonathan, or Ellis Dolan’s slightly more youthful and gregarious take on Dumbledore, Jay Haggett’s jaw-dropping arias as Hagrid, Emily Hansford’s unforgettable number (it’s Myrtle, b*tch) as a yet-to-be ghostified Moaning Myrtle, Stephanie John’s sexy but vulnerable Genevieve, Mel O’Brien’s riotously funny Muffin, or Jonathon Shilling’s adorable but complicated Derald – this combination of new and familiar characters inhabit a Hogwarts that is at once the warm, magical haven of our childhoods, and an exciting, provocative space where anything can happen. And it does. From a captivating battle of the bands to a head-scratching murder mystery, this production rockets its Nimbus 2000 to all kinds of new heights.

There is something here for Harry Potter tragics and casual fans alike. Whatever your magical persuasion, this production is as delightful as a Chocolate Frog. You’d better get your tickets soon – after all, you can’t expect this show to hang around all day.

Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts is not authorized, sanctioned, licensed or endorsed by J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros. or any person or company associated with the Harry Potter books, films or play.

Images: Aaron Walker