As a mere muggle growing up in Phoenix, Patrick Du Laney came into his magical powers the moment he stepped onstage.
“I did a play in junior high, and I went, ‘Oh, I’m gonna do this now.’ And then that was it,” he said by phone from New York City. He’s light-years away from that one-act play titled “Dateline Romance,” but has stayed true to his word.
On March 20, the professional actor, now 44 and based in Iowa City, will make his Broadway debut in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at Manhattan’s renovated Lyric Theatre.
Now entering its second year by welcoming some new cast members and saying goodbye to others, the two-part play still is shrouded in plot secrecy. Du Laney can’t even reveal who he portrays within the ensemble, but he fell under the spell of J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World years ago.
He didn’t grow up with the wildly popular books, reading the first one around the time the first movie — “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" — came out in 2001.
“I quickly caught up,” he said, became hooked, and has now read them all. The seventh book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” came out in 2007 while he was appearing in “Oklahoma!” in Kansas City. “It was banned backstage,” he said, because entranced readers were missing their entrances.
Reflecting that cultural hunger for “Harry Potter” books, the play has earned raved reviews, set a box office record and swept up six 2018 Tony Awards, including Best Play, accolades for director John Tiffany and design awards for scenery, costumes, lighting and sound. It also received five 2018 Drama Desk awards, six Outer Critics Circle awards and the Drama League Award for Outstanding Production of a Broadway or Off-Broadway Play.
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It’s a new script by Jack Thorne, based on a new story he wrote with Rowling and director Tiffany. The five-hour play is divided into two parts, which ticket holders can see all in one day or on separate days.
The story rolls 19 years into the future, when Potter is married with three children, and is “an overworked employee” of the Ministry of Magic.
According to the official plot statement: “While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son, Albus, must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: Sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.”
Du Laney is enjoying keeping the plot under wraps, and appreciates the reason behind that decision.
“Because Harry Potter is so special and important to so many people and part of their growing up, to give away anything is to deny people the same kind of opportunity they had the first time they sat down with one of the books,” Du Laney said, “so it’s very fun to keep the secrets.”
His journey to Broadway began in July, when he received an invitation, through his agent, to go to auditions in Chicago on Aug. 6. That was the day before he was slated to begin directing “The Cake” at Riverside Theatre in Iowa City. He went, and was almost home when his agent called again, asking him to return to Chicago the next day to read for a different role. So he got up early, made the four-hour drive back to Chicago, auditioned, and still made it back to Iowa City in time to begin the Riverside rehearsals. The next day, he was invited to come to New York for the final audition Sept. 20.
A few weeks later, he received the call that rocked his world.
“This is my first New York show and this is actually my first New York audition, so to say this was a surprise is an understatement,” he said.
He and his longtime partner, Dr. Christopher Okiishi, were married Dec. 11, a week before rehearsals began. They had gone out to New York earlier to find Du Laney an apartment, so now they’re FaceTiming to keep in touch.
“I’m very lucky Chris is his own boss, so he’s been able to come out every other week or so,” Du Laney said.
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An official honeymoon will have to wait. Du Laney also had to give up a couple of projects at home and in Chicago, but this opportunity was too good to pass up.
The best part about being involved in the show is “being a part of a world that I’ve loved for such a long time,” he said. “That part has not even quite sunk in yet — that I get to go to work every day and work on ‘Harry Potter.’ It’s a strange feeling to be in the same world as J.K. Rowling. It’s a little unreal. That’s the ‘pinch me’ part.”
And opening night awaits, promising another layer of amazement when the curtain rises.
“This was never part of my trajectory. This is not anything I particularly strove for,” he said. “I had a life in Iowa I was really, really happy with, so to be here and experience this is really unreal. I’ve thought about it a lot — just the moment of stepping onstage in front of an audience for the first time. I think there’s few memories that will compare to that.”
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if you go
l What: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” Parts 1 and 2
l Where: Lyric Theatre, 214 W. 43rd St., New York City
l When: Part 1: 2 p.m. Wednesday, Saturday, Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Thursday; Part 2: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday
l Tickets: Prices vary; for details, go to Harrypottertheplay.com/us/
l Local angle: Patrick Du Laney of Iowa City begins performing March 20