Review: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Concert

HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & TM Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. J.K. ROWLING`S WIZARDING WORLDTM J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s18)

Review presented by UMB Private Wealth Management

Inside the opulent belly of the Kauffman Center, children took their seats wearing black robes and the colored scarves of their designated wizarding house. A few pushed it a bit further, donning the trademark circular framed glasses with a lightning bolt scar, scribed off-center on their foreheads in black marker. Even some of the parents took part in the cosplay aspect via Deathly Hallow leggings or a necktie subtly patterned in golden snitches. It wasn’t full-blown Comic-Con, but it wasn’t a typical night at the symphony, either. Guest conductor Jeffrey Schindler made that quite clear the moment he took his spot at the center of the orchestra. He urged the audience to react, to laugh, to indulge in our natural responses. Being on our best behavior was not on the agenda. “Tonight, you can let loose!” he boomed, expelling all remaining traces of stuffiness from the room. The suit and gown demographic collectively eased as the house lights dimmed. On screen, the Warner Bros. logo crept forward as the orchestra chimed the main theme crisper and clearer than I’ve ever heard it in my many viewings. Every note of the John Williams’ score was spot-on, and it only took a few bars to realize I was witnessing a grand elevation of the original theatrical release. This was the same third installment of the Harry Potter I knew and loved—just better. Way better.

Whereas the normal version strives for a happy balance of all the various cinematic components ranging from cinematography to special effects, the presence of a live orchestra element turns that on its head. In this presentation, the score was the star—the main attraction—to the degree that it would, at times, overtake the dialogue and the audience would have to temporarily rely on subtitles. This never felt like an issue though because every tense moment and action sequence were enhanced exponentially. The screechy trills of strings made the dark-hooded Dementors that much more threatening. When Harry tentatively boarded Buckbeak for the first time, the boom of the Timpani drums rattled our bones as they sprinted for takeoff. And “Double Trouble” never sounded more hauntingly catchy than it did when performed by a live choir, each appropriately garbed in their own Hogwarts house scarf. Even for someone like me who’s watched the film more than ten times, this fresh packaging of Harry’s quest to hunt down Sirius Black allowed me to experience it like new again. It also allowed to appreciate the many moving parts of an orchestra. Schindler and the Kansas City Symphony put on a performance as emotive as it was precise. I know this movie. I know this score. Believe me when I say there wasn’t a single off-key moment. To witness this sum of parts operate like a Swiss watch is worth the price of admission alone. The visuals merely up the ante.

My hope is that the Kauffman Center will continue on with the rest of the HP series. For longtime fans of the films, this method of presentation pumps new life and new appreciation into the material. For younger viewers, it’s perhaps the best introduction to the world of orchestra you can give them. They’ll walk in with wand but may be asking you for an instrument by the time it’s over. Regardless of age, I highly recommend seeing this performance before the end of its run.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in Concert can be seen Thursday and Friday, September 6th-7th at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, September 9th at 4:00 p.m.

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