Arts & Culture

Paso High grad shines as part of Tony-winning team behind Broadway 'Harry Potter' show

Paso Robles High School graduate Brett J. Banakis worked as the associate set designer on "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two" on Broadway.
Paso Robles High School graduate Brett J. Banakis worked as the associate set designer on "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two" on Broadway.

Paso Robles High School graduate Brett J. Banakis recently celebrated two magical milestones: his 34th birthday and a big win at the Tony Awards.

Banakis is part of the creative team behind hit Broadway show "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two," which took home six Tonys at a star-studded awards ceremony June 10 in New York City. In addition to best play, the production picked up honors for direction, costume design, lighting design and scenic design.

Banakis attended the Tony Awards with the "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" cast and crew, who he said have become a "special family of friends."

"We have spent so much time together in rehearsal rooms and dark theaters, literally making magic together," he wrote in an email. "We used to joke that going to rehearsals for 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' was like going to our own 'school of witchcraft and wizardy.' ..."

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Paso Robles High School graduate Brett J. Banakis helped design the marquee outside the Lyric Theatre in New York City for "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two." Brett J. Banakis

Banakis graduated from Paso Robles High School in 2002, earning a bachelor's degree from UCLA in 2006. He moved to New York the following year to pursue a master's degree at New York University's acclaimed Tisch School of the Arts.

Since graduating in 2010, Banakis has worked on more than a dozen Broadway shows.

But "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," part of a hugely successful fantasy franchise that includes several best-selling books and top-grossing movies, represented a new sort of challenge.

As associate set designer, Banakis teamed up with Tony-winning scenic designer Christine Jones to develop the sets for "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," which opened on London's West End in 2016. (That production won a whopping nine Olivier Awards. )

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The two also redesigned the auditorium of New York's Lyric Theatre and created a massive marquee that includes a 125-foot metal wing for the show's Broadway run.

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Paso Robles High School graduate Brett J. Banakis, right, poses for a photo with Christine Jones, who won a Tony Award for best scenic design for "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two." Banakis worked as associate set designer on the show. Kate Egan

Since "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" opened on Broadway in April, Banakis's role has shifted to international scenic supervisor. "I oversee the design translation and execution of the set designs for all current and future productions" of the play, he explained, including a Melbourne, Australia, version that opens in 2019.

In addition, Banakis and Jones are co-designing "The Cher Show," a jukebox musical based on the life of pop icon Cher that's slated to open on Broadway in December.

Banakis credits his upbringing in San Luis Obispo County with shaping his career path.

"I cannot stress enough how much guidance, expertise, drive, passion and love was fostered in me by my drama teachers at Paso Robles High School," Banakis wrote.

John Lambie taught him that "anything was possible on stage with the imagination of an audience," he wrote, while Glen Smeltzer helped the fledgling stage designer "realize that I could actually pursue that as a viable career goal."

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Brett J. Banakis was involved in a Tony Award-winning production of "The Glass Menagerie. He worked on a different recent revival of the play.

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