Review: “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Concert”

If you’ve ever been to a symphony performance, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of sitting in a dark hall, all focus on the musicians onstage, the environment lending itself toward palpable disapproval of any sound in the audience that might disrupt the music.

The Hollywood Bowl performance of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in Concert on June 29 was none of those things – and it made for a fantastic evening that brought the film, the music, and the fans to the forefront in an experience unlike any other.

When I spoke with conductor Sarah Hicks last week, she said, “I love feeling the energy of everyone watching and listening together.” As someone who always liked attending the first midnight screenings of the Harry Potter films for the same reason, I was excited to experience that magic again. And I did – in the unique way that CineConcerts presented.

 

 

Arriving at the Hollywood Bowl, it felt almost like a convention. Thousands of people wandered around the venue’s marketplace, some grabbing snacks before the show and others carrying their picnic baskets into the amphitheater. Merch tables offered House scarves and T-shirts for anyone who wasn’t already in their Potter gear. I could even pick out cosplayers in the crowd as I made my way to my seat – those brave souls in full costume in the Los Angeles summer heat (probably Gryffindors).

But inside the amphitheater itself, it was all about Order of the Phoenix. The orchestra took center stage, with large screens for the film strategically spaced so that even the higher-up seats wouldn’t miss anything. After a brief introduction, Hicks encouraged the audience to make their reactions heard, and the concert began to applause for “Hedwig’s Theme” over the opening logo.

If it felt odd at first to make noise over an orchestral performance, the awkwardness quickly vanished. Mass cheering greeted the arrival of every hero, witty line, and orchestral cue. Perhaps proving that we are most united in our hatred of Umbridge, everyone booed with the most passion at her every appearance. Snape, true to form, got enthusiastic reactions of both kinds.

 

 

Thinking back to my first viewings of Order of the Phoenix, these reactions weren’t unexpected – but they were emotionally heightened here due to the music. While the score has always been there, there is power in a live orchestra that just isn’t present when listening to a recording. Tracks I’ve heard on the soundtrack a thousand times felt physically different. Outside of my favorite cues, I most enjoyed hearing the small moments not included on the soundtrack. While never actually distracting from the film, they were present here in a way that’s difficult to catch when you’re rewatching the DVDs at home. Feeling that, and feeling over 17,000 people feeling it with you, is, well, magical.

As it happens, it was also essential in keeping the audience engaged later in the night. A technical problem with the projectors during the battle scenes at the Ministry might have been disastrous during a normal film showing, but the orchestra played on, and the audience watched with good humor. The music kept everyone there with Dumbledore’s Army instead of allowing the interruption to pull the audience out of the story. It takes a special kind of immersive experience to keep up everyone’s emotional energy through a technical hiccup, and this performance delivered.

And I still can’t stop thinking about it. It has certainly changed how I think about the fifth film. Order of the Phoenix is typically lower on my ranking of the movies, but this event highlighted every moment of the film and its score in a new way. It somehow captured both the magic of experiencing a story for the first time and the magic of sharing an old favorite with other people who love it too. In a fandom that’s been around for 20 years, that’s a special experience. It’s one I hope to repeat with the other seven films in the series if I can.

If you’re curious about where you can go to an unforgettable CineConcerts event like this one, you can find upcoming performances near you here. They’re definitely not to be missed!