Joel Meyers ’21 debuts on Broadway as the lead in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The original Cursed Child was written as a two-parter — separate two-and-a-half-hour shows performed over two nights (or a doubleheader on Wednesdays) at the Lyric Theatre. When the play reopened in 2021 after more than a year of Covid-caused Broadway closures, it had been condensed to a one-night show. But behind the scenes, the script continued to be tinkered with, and it was finally ready in November, just in time for Meyers’ debut. The revamped script features some additional magical moments and a few other surprises. The runtime is nearly three and a half hours, making it the longest play currently on Broadway. For Meyers, who’s in nearly every scene, each night is like a marathon: “I think of the show in terms of benchmarks,” he says. “If I can do the one dance, I’m good. If I get through this spell, I’m good. And if I get through this trick, I’m good, you know?”
Landing the role is quite the accomplishment for a first-time Broadway gig; not only is Meyers performing hours of lines each night, but he is also pulling off a string of physically demanding feats throughout the show. However, he says it’s all worth it for the audience reaction: “It’s really fun when the tricks all go right and you hear the ‘Whoa!’ from the audience, or when they go, ‘How do they do that?!’”
For more than 25 years, tens of millions of people around the world have been spellbound by the adventures of a boy wizard. Released in the United Kingdom in 1997, the first book in the Harry Potter franchise spawned a seven-book series, eight movies (more if you count the spinoffs) and legions of super fans who have grown up identifying with the series’ themes of friendship, perseverance and the desire to belong. When Cursed Child opened in London’s West End in 2016 it brought the story to a new generation — quite literally, as the sequel follows the children of the original series’ main characters. The show came to Broadway in 2018.
With dark wavy hair, glasses and an affable smile, Meyers definitely looks like he could be Harry Potter’s son (described in the books as having unruly black hair, glasses that are often held together with tape, and bright eyes). In fact, the first step of the audition process was simply sending a photo to the casting agents; he quickly got a callback. But it was Meyers’ talent on the stage that carried him through the demanding audition process and into the spotlight.
A double major in theater and astrophysics, Meyers has never been one to shy away from difficulty. But taking on the role of Albus has posed a new kind of challenge. The show is magical, not just in the “theater is magic” sense but also in its over-the-top, incredible practical effects — objects and people fly across the stage, characters transform into other characters, and wands light up with spells and shoot real fire. (The Lyric Theatre actually closed in 2017 for a yearlong renovation in order to accommodate all the effects.) It’s a physical, grueling show, and Meyers performs it eight times a week for an audience of nearly 2,000. “It’s very humbling in a way, because you quickly become aware that this is an experience that not many people get to have so early in their careers,” says Meyers. “I’ve just been trying to take in every moment.”
Meyers grew up in Seattle and got into acting when he was 10; he and a cousin joined a local theater group, and he was hooked. It remained a hobby throughout his middle and high school years, and he balanced acting in local shows with soccer and academics. When it came time to look at colleges, Meyers knew he wanted to be in a city with acting opportunities, but didn’t want to limit himself to one career possibility. At the College, he was able to pursue his varied interests in science and theater; among other shows, he performed with the King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Romeo and Juliet, and was the lead in the 124th Varsity Show. “I think the best actors I’ve worked with and met and read about all really embody the mentality that it’s more than just getting on stage and doing it. It’s also about being interested in the world,” he says.
Balancing double majors wasn’t easy (his senior thesis drew analogies between theories of acting and Einstein’s theory of relativity), but Meyers says the experience made him a better actor. And yet when he spotted the open casting call for Albus, he almost didn’t apply. Then he thought back to his thesis advisor, Barnard professor Gisela Cardenas, and the lessons she taught him about confidence. “I give her credit for reminding me to let others say no,” he says. “I was about to tell myself no.”
The audition process lasted nearly two months; Meyers had to submit a self-tape, then try out in what he jokingly calls a “not-dance dance callback,” a test to see how well an actor can follow choreography. Even though Cursed Child doesn’t have musical numbers, it still has fight scenes and magical sequences; the callback tested Meyers’ ability to follow the moves.
“Honestly, one of the hardest experiences of my life was that first hour-long callback with a bunch of actors, many of whom are Broadway-trained dancers,” he says. “I struggled my way through that and went home, probably the most exhausted I have ever been. I sat on my couch and I thought, ‘Well, my Broadway career just ended before it began.’”
Fortunately, the casting directors had a different assessment. Meyers was brought back for three more rounds, including a reading and movement audition where he was tasked with performing one of Cursed Child ’s flying sequences. (“A bucket-list item come true,” he says.) After one final audition in front of the producers, he got the news that he was cast as Albus in late September, surrounded by family on a visit home.
While the experience has been a whirlwind, it has also been deeply satisfying. “When I stop and think about what I want to do, it always comes back to acting. When you’re not doing it, it’s what you want to be doing,” he says. “And whether you call that the acting bug, or something else, there is some truth to that. As I sit here now, I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else.”
Cardenas says of Meyers, “As a student, Joel was humble and playful, and worked very hard. The way he thinks is very exciting. He’s going to bring his physicality to the role, and his sharp mind. Those eyes of his are always percolating with ideas.”
Those percolating ideas also keep Meyers grounded as a small-business owner. He co-founded Hyperspace Tutors with his friend and fellow physics major Gabe Matos ’21 in July 2021. Meyers teaches students from middle school through college in science and math; in fact, in December he was on the Columbia campus for a tutoring session on a Monday, his one day a week off from the show. “It’s been really nice to have that totally separate focus and interest,” he says of the side gig.
The Lyric Theatre holds a special place in Meyers’ heart. Not only is it where he made his Broadway debut, but it’s also where he saw his first Broadway show, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. As an “absolutely 100 percent” Harry Potter fan growing up, playing Albus Potter in the theater that means so much to him has been a dream come true. “One of my cousins asked me what it’s like doing the show every day, and I said, ‘It’s kind of like playing Harry Potter in the backyard, but with real fire,’” says Meyers.
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