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Harry Potter and the expanding empire.

J.K. Rowling's universe encompasses page, screen, stage, theme parks, and more. What's left to conquer?

WITH "HARRY POTTER and the Cursed Child," J.K. Rowling's beloved wizarding world has been safely transported to the stage in London's West End, feeding the appetite of its passionate book-and-movie fan base. Critics have been nearly unanimous in their praise for the two-part production, which officially opened July 30 and has already announced an extension of its run to December 2017. (Tickets for the second half of 2017 go on sale Aug. 4.)

The question now is where the franchise can go next. Besides the play, there's the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, where fans can walk around the Harry Potter movie sets at Leavesden Studios; "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at the Universal Studios theme parks in Los Angeles and Orlando; and "Harry Potter: The Exhibition" a global tour of Potter movie artifacts, including props, costumes, and creatures. There's also the Pottermore digital platform, which publishes new writing from Rowling about the wizarding world, as well as videos and articles on all things Potter.

"It's a very well-produced and very well-managed exploitation of rights in all areas," says brand expert and talent agent Charles Finch.

Rowling also has projects in the works that are separate from the world of magic. She is involved in the move from page to screen of her crime novels, written under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith and featuring the detective Cormoran Strike. Rowling serves as an executive producer on the seven-part TV miniseries "The Cormoran Strike Mysteries," which is being made by Bronte Film and Television for the BBC.

For the Potter franchise, potential areas of development exist in gaming, television, and movie spinoffs centered on ancillary characters and storylines in the novels. Finch believes movie spinoffs are a safer bet than a move into TV. "A movie gives you a lot stronger basis to develop ancillary rights and projects," he says, "but the investment is much more significant."

But, Finch warns, when working with ancillary characters, there's a degree of risk involved around potentially diluting stories and characters that have been "embedded in the public consciousness."

Rowling and Warner Bros, have decided to take that gamble with the upcoming movie trilogy "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," which chronicles the adventures of writer Newt Scamander, who receives only passing mentions in the Harry Potter books. The films are set 70 years before Potter reads Scamander's textbook as a student at Hogwarts. The first installment, starring Eddie Redmayne in the title role, is scheduled for release in November, and heralds Rowling's debut as a movie screenwriter.

Talent agent Duncan Heath says Rowling made an excellent decision in teaming up with producer David Heyman, who has been skillful in mediating between Rowling and Warner Bros."He has been very sensitive to what she wanted and had the clout, the brightness, and the hard [work] to make sure it happened," Heath says.

Beyond the trilogy, Rowling's agent and executives at Warner Bros, have given no indication of other Potter-related projects in the pipeline. Warners says no movie version of "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," which was written for the stage, is being planned.

Breathing space between iterations may not be a bad thing. "There is a public threshold, and it is often quite hard to recognize when people are going to become tired of a franchise," Finch says.

In the meantime, Rowling continues to engage with the vast Potter fan base via social media. That rapport is paying dividends with the #KeepTheSecrets campaign on Twitter, which urges "Cursed Child" audiences to avoid divulging plot points.

"Rowling understands her fan base and their custodianship of the narrative," says PR expert Mark Borkowski. "If you treat them with respect, they gather around and give back.

"It's all about quality ... and about how much control J.K. Rowling has over her brand. And about the quality of partnerships," Borkowski adds. "If the wrong people get involved and they're looking at the franchise as a spreadsheet--and are not seeing it as a living, breathing cultural entity--that's where things go wrong."

Magical Night: "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" is a theatrical blockbuster with a big heart, writes Matt Trueman. Review, p.116

Making a Name

Rowling writes crime novels under the nom de plume Robert Galbraith. 2013's 'The Cuckoo's Calling' introduced the character of P.l. Cormoran Strike; it was followed by 'The Silkworm' (2014) and 'Career of Evil' (2015).

By LEO BARRACLOUGH

[twitter] @leobarraclough
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Title Annotation:TOP BILLING: NEWS
Author:Barraclough, Leo
Publication:Variety
Article Type:Theater review
Date:Aug 2, 2016
Words:756
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