We take a look at the fan-made A Very Potter Musical series, and the ten most notable things these theater students portrayed better than the Warner Bros. franchise.
In 2009, a group of theater students at the University of Michigan wrote and performed a Harry Potter musical parody, which they later posted on YouTube as A Very Potter Musical and took the internet by storm. The musical’s popularity was such that the same students went on to produce A Very Potter Sequel in 2010, and finished off the series with A Very Potter Senior Year, which they performed at LeakyCon 2012.
While the group has since moved on to establish StarKid Productions in Chicago—which has put on half a dozen shows since its inception—their Potter musicals remain as popular as ever. It’s no small wonder, since the shows are as heartfelt as they are laugh-out-loud funny, and smart as a tack about the goings-on in the Potter universe. And, as it turns out, it doesn’t take much of a stretch to point out a few things these fan-made musical parodies did better than Warner Bros.’ adaptations.
- Comic relief
As a comedy itself, AVPM certainly had more wiggle room for jokes—the show depended on it. The books themselves are funnier than they’re usually given credit for, although that can be easy to forget amidst the classism, mass murder, and attempted infanticide that sets the stage for Harry Potter.
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But as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’s book jacket reminds us, “As in all wars, life goes on.” While the official Warner Bros. franchise offers us at least one light-hearted scene per film, this fan-made parody shakes their bag of laughs all throughout the show. It’s a nice reminder that not everything is as dark as it seems—at least, it’s not as long as “one remembers to turn on the light.” The A Very Potter Musical series gives us that light, and keeps it switched on throughout their three-show run.
One of the best aspects of parody is its ability to be openly self-aware of the source material. While Warner Bros. didn’t have that luxury, AVPM gets to poke fun at Harry Potter in an affectionate way that other fans can appreciate, too. One of my personal favorites is in Dumbledore’s opening scene when he says, “I’ve been putting everyone who looks like a good guy into Gryffindor, anybody who looks like a bad guy into Slytherin, and the other two can just go wherever the hell they want, I don’t really care.”
If that doesn’t sum up a lot of fan jokes about the series, little else will.
- Hot Voldemort
Okay, so this one isn’t on Warner Bros., since J.K. Rowling didn’t exactly envision an aesthetically delectable villain. All the same, it’s an added bonus that AVPM offered us Joe Walker’s impressive torso.
- The Voldemort/Quirrell relationship
If you spend enough time on the internet, you’re bound to come across a thousand different theories and questions about the Potter universe. One of those points is how awkward it would be to have someone else’s face growing out the back of your head, and it’s a point the musical addresses throughout. Voldemort tells Quirrell, “Just relax with the ‘Dark Lord,’ okay? I watch you wipe your butt daily. You can call me Voldemort. We’re there. We’ve reached that point.”
It’s an uncomfortable image, but it’s just one of those things that makes you wonder. I for one am glad that at least one Harry Potter adaptation pointed this out; it makes it easier for me to mark that question “answered” and get on with my life.
- Draco Malfoy
Tom Felton’s performance as Harry’s school rival is actually one of my favorite things about the movies; Felton plays the character with as many sneers, jeers, and tears as we could have hoped for. So while I wouldn’t say that the musicals did it better, Lauren Lopez’s rolling on the ground is the stuff of legends. She remarked on the choice to play AVPM’s Draco as such by saying, “He is very insecure and so badly wants to be cool. He tries to strut and pose, but has very little coordination and doesn’t quite know when to stop the posing, so he just keeps rolling around and ends up looking stupid.”
It’s a fair enough analysis of Draco’s need to be important, and a fun way to portray it. Tom Felton himself has commented on StarKid’s adaptation of his character twice, once during a 2010 appearance and again in 2011.
- Harry’s hair
What a stroke of luck that Darren Criss’ natural tresses are a wild mop of curls. None of us can hate on Daniel Radcliffe’s ‘do in Prisoner of Azkaban, but the other seven films saw him with a decently neat and tidy haircut. Criss’ hair might not be what we visualized, either, but it certainly hits the nail closer to the head, at least.
While physical appearance isn’t the end-all, be-all of a proper adaptation, I don’t know a fellow fan who hasn’t given Radcliffe’s Harry hair two thumbs down.
- Dumbledore’s homosexuality
All hell broke loose in 2007 when Rowling revealed that Albus Dumbledore was gay. Fans either disapproved of her choice, or were disappointed that she didn’t make this fact explicit within the books, and that the films followed suit.
Now, Dumbledore’s romantic life was never a subject of interest within the story, but there is at least one occasion in which it could have been revealed. Rita Skeeter wrote a “tell-all” book about the man, and you can’t convince me that she, of all people, wouldn’t have milked Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s relationship for all it was worth—and that certainly includes speculation on a little sexual liaison between the two.
Meanwhile, AVPM gives Dumbledore’s sexuality as much pomp and circumstance as the heterosexual love interests. It’s often played for laughs, but so are the relationships between Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny, so that helps to even out the playing field.
- The James/Lily/Snape debacle
While Warner Bros. cut Lily from the “Snape’s Worst Memory” scene entirely, A Very Potter Sequel includes Lily in their sequence. The number “Guys Like Potter” emphasizes how Snape feels about himself when placed against his old nemesis James Potter, and how James and Lily’s relationship spurred many of Snape’s later decisions. It also shows that the decimation of his friendship with Lily was his own doing.
When the musical’s Sirius Black tells Snape, “You just can’t stand that [Lily] picked James over you,” I did a little triumphant fist-pump. Rowling makes Lily’s choice to end her friendship with Snape such an important one, one that sets the stage for both the series as well as Lily’s character. We don’t know much about Harry’s parents, but Rowling makes it clear that Lily will not continue a toxic relationship with someone, no matter their history, and that she fights for what she believes in, and what she believes in is goodness.
James never took Lily away from Snape—Snape made his choices and Lily made hers, and hers led to falling for James. The films strip Lily of her agency, and the musical manages to give a little of it back to her.
- Hermione Granger
Perhaps Warner Bros. thought they were doing the audience a favor by perfecting Hermione so that she hardly resembles the flawed Hermione from the books, but they’d be wrong. A Very Potter Sequel’s Hermione solo, “The Coolest Girl,” serves to demonstrate Hermione’s flaws and insecurities alike, which Warner Bros. chose to do away with. The Hermione of the books is raw and real, while the films put her on a pedestal. The AVPM series makes a lot of jokes at Hermione’s expense, but they’re still more apt than what the film franchise sold to us.
- Ron Weasley
Finally, the Ron Weasley of the books and our fantasies is in the flesh. While Rupert Grint did beautifully with what he was given, the StarKid team gives us the Ron the fans and Ron himself deserves—the loyal, funny, informative, jealous Ron who tries to put his friends before his insecurities, no matter how those friends (unintentionally) exacerbate those insecurities. The films all but shunt him aside, and the musical pulls him back into focus. A Very Potter Senior Year‘s number “Sidekick” kicks Ron’s character into full gear, and shows just how much this theater troupe gets it.
“Weasley is our king,” indeed, and he deserves his crown—but a blue sweatband works just as well.
To learn more about Team StarKid and upcoming events, visit their website.