Much-hyped 'Harry Potter' exhibit sweeps into Chicago

Much-hyped 'Harry Potter' exhibit sweeps into Chicago
2009-04-26T00:00:00Z Much-hyped 'Harry Potter' exhibit sweeps into ChicagoMOLLY WOULFE
(219) 852-4329, molly.woulfe@nwi.com
nwitimes.com
April 26, 2009 12:00 am  • 

Warner Bros. is borrowing a page from J.K. Rowling.

Mum's the word for "Harry Potter: The Exhibition," receiving its world premiere Thursday at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry.

Like the British author -- historically tight-lipped about her boy-wizard plots -- the studio is hush-hush about the 200 Potter "artifacts" going on display in Chicago. The blockbuster-to-be celebrates the film franchise starring Daniel Radcliffe as Harry, and Emma Watson and Rupert Grint as his best friends Hermione and Ron at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

The studio and partners "really want to be very careful," said Anne Rashford, MSI director of the temporary exhibits. "I think they've done a wonderful job."

So wonderful, that Warner Bros. surely cast an invisibility clock over the show, set for a multicity world tour after it closes in Chicago Sept. 27. Leaks are rare as cheery Dementors.

Happily, The Times has a few tricks up its sleeve. Some details weaseled from insiders:

* Harry has been under our noses for months. Exhibitgroup/Giltspur assembled the 10,000-square-foot show in Roselle, 30 miles northwest of Chicago. It took a dozen 53-foot trucks to spirit the props, costumes and sets to the museum.

* Muggles will be immediately immersed in Harry's world. The steaming Hogwarts Express marks the entrance, "so you feel like you've arrived at Hogwarts," one source said.

* The props and costumes -- most culled from the first five films -- are displayed in recreated sets of Harry and Ron's dorm room at Hogwarts, the Gryffindor common room and a life-size replica of Hagrid's hut. "Floating" candles will illuminate the Great Hall at night.

* Interactive elements include Prof. Sprout's Mandrake Garden. Yank a baby-faced root, and it screams. Visitors also can toss a "Quaffle" and sit in Hagrid's super-sized chair.

* Lord Voldemort shows up, as do magical creatures like a giant Acromantula spider. "I don't want to give too much away, but we have Buckbeak, one of my favorites," Exhibitgroup President Eddie Newquist said. The Hippogriff, a cross between an eagle and a horse, made his first appearance in "Prisoner of Azkaban." Harry's owl couldn't make it, "but we do have owl cages," Newquist said.

* Rowling reviewed the exhibit plans and may try to see the show during its five-month run. "She's got a very, very active schedule," Newquist cautioned.

What's no secret: The much-hyped Harryfest will draw mobs of Muggles. Despite the recession and a top ticket price of $26, the MSI has experienced "unparalleled interest" in the show via calls, Web site hits and advance ticket sales, MSI President and CEO David Mosena said.

The museum's track record for launching barnburners such as "Titanic: The Exhibition" and "CSI: The Experience" helped it edge out more than 30 institutions worldwide vying for the premiere.

Due to the upcoming "Science Storms" exhibit, "Harry Potter" will be housed in a temporary, climate-controlled building on the museum's east lawn. Advance reservations are recommended, and cameras prohibited in the timed-ticket show. FYI: (773) 684-1414 or msichicago.org.

During the show's run, the sixth of eight planned Potter movies -- "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" -- opens in theaters July 15. The exhibit will be updated with new props as films bow during the exhibit's five-year, 10-city international tour. But fans can get a sneak peek at Prof. Slughorn's (Jim Broadbent's) potion-master costume.

While skeptics scoff, museum officials and organizers insist the much-hyped, Hollywood-inspired show is a good fit with the science museum. Video interviews with special-effects experts and costume designers shed insights into movie-making, advocates said.

"Our mission is to inspire the inventive genius in everyone," Rashford said. "I don't know anyone who inspires like J.K. Rowling. And the filmmakers really epitomize the inspiration and creativity that go into being an artist."

The museum will host Snape-worthy chemistry labs during the show's run. Children also can dissect owl pellets, and test their senses of smell and taste by sampling Bertie Bott-style jelly beans. Happily, grumpy Prof. Snape will not be in attendance to rap wayward pupils' heads. Since Warner Bros. Consumer Products is backing the exhibit, expect the show to exit into a giant gift shop.

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