Into a world of (movie-making) wizardry

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Post-Gazette senior theater critic Christopher Rawson and online features editor (and last-minute addition) Sharon Eberson are accompanying 34 intrepid theater-goers on a PG ShowPlane Critic’s Choice tour of London. You check their posts from the theater scene at OnStage blog. In between shows, Sharon took time out for this magical detour…
LONDON, Day 5 — Despite a drab, too-cold day for London in March, the journey to “The Making of Harry Potter” was pretty easy by Underground (to London Euson), Overground (to Watford Junction) and a double-decker shuttle to Leavesden, site of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour, or what used to be Stage J, where 007 was known to have filmed and with a lot that represents a third of the film studio space in England. My appointed time was 10:30 a.m., and after a very Disney like entry experience, we watched a short film narrated by the Big Three of the films and the screen lifted to reveal the door to the Great Hall. The doors are huge and light, so a young boy celebrating his birthday could open them to reveal the long room where Hogwarts students were sorted on their first day, where feasts appeared and disappeared and grand and dire announcements were made. All along the walls were mannequins in costumes from the films, with the dais including the Head Master’s and the other teachers’ garments as well. The only things missing for atmosphere were floating candles, a few ghosts and owls, and the stars overhead.
From there, we moved into a giant space — and exhibition hall, really — where seemingly every prop and every room ever seen in the Harry Potter films were there for the picture-taking and posing. The most interactive aspect were wand-wielding lessons. I have to admit, I was hoping for more from the Mirror of Erised, but otherwise no disappointments. I gave up on my digital guide and was fine with the placards and video help along the way as I wound my way past artifacts such as the Triwizard Cup and venues such as Dumbledore’s two-story offices, the boys’ dorm, the Weasley home, Umbridge’s office and Diagon Alley, before heading outside into a courtyard that revealed 4 Privet Drive, a few giant chess pieces and more, then inside again through the creature, planning, model and artists’ renderings rooms and finally, to the big reveal at the end: the huge model that is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, which glowed from day into night. Interactive videos played a time-lapse film of the construction, which is a marvel.
So much more to say, but it’s late, and there was no WiFi just before I left for “Matilda” — a musical about another special child raised by awful people, and who grows to manifest magical powers. And she finds her way through schoolmates and a special teacher, too … hmmm. More similarities than I thought. It was loud, raucous and fun, and it will set me up to enter the dark side for the Scottish play tomorrow. Cheers.
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