Good news for San Francisco’s Harry Potter fans: the most awarded theatrical entertainment in theater history, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” officially opened at the Curran Theater on December 1, 2019, to thunderous applause by its slavish devotees, including this writer.
Yes, the 2019 San Francisco production left me almost as delighted and satisfied as when I first saw “The Cursed Child” at London’s Palace Theatre in December of 2016. I include the caveat “almost” because the actors who originated the roles in London, and who later inaugurated the show at New York’s Lyric Theatre, seemed to have captured a bit more of the emotional element of the story than did the first night San Francisco troupe.
No matter. The subject, intricacy, and cleverness of the plot, and the incredible stagecraft and breathtaking magic effects (the production cost nearly $70 million), makes the two full length plays that comprise “The Cursed Child” a “must-see” for all fans. And for those newbies, a quick catch-up via the web to become familiar with the characters and story, or even reading the program’s summary, can get one quickly up to speed. A newcomer may miss some nuance here and there, but it doesn’t really matter all that much.
“The Cursed Child” begins after the epilogue of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the final book in the famed J.K. Rowling series. Harry Potter, the orphaned boy at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, who became the leader on the side of goodness and light against the evil Lord Voldemort and the forces of dark magic, is now a 37-year-old man. Harry (John Skelley) has a desk job at the Ministry of Magic and is married to Ginny Weasley (Angela Reed). Their second son, Albus Severus (Benjamin Papac), is starting his first year at Hogwarts School. Harry’s best school chums, the now-married couple, Hermione Granger (Yanna McIntosh), who heads the Ministry of Magic, and Ron Weasley, a stay-at-home Dad and joke-shop owner, (David Abeles) are also sending their daughter Rose (Folami Williams) to Hogwarts.
Harry Potter’s parents had been killed by Lord Voldemort when Harry was a baby. His first 11 unfortunate years were spent in the loveless home of his aunt and uncle. He did receive emotional support from Professor Dumbledore, and other teachers and friends once he went to Hogwarts. But with no father to guide him, Harry has become an insecure, harried father to his son Albus. And Albus has his own anxieties. He’s the son of a celebrated father and fears he can never make his mark. Ironically, Albus’s best and only friend is Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger), who has similar vulnerabilities as the son of Draco Malfoy (Lucas Hall), Harry’s arch-enemy.
The main content of the plays concerns the adventures of Albus and Scorpius as they use a “Time-Turner’” to go back in time to try to right a past wrong. Their intentions are noble, but the rule of unintended consequences prevails, as the boys blunder, then try to fix their mistakes, which causes more inadvertent calamities. It’s a complex plot that moves a bit too quickly, with so many convoluted twists that they may be hard to follow at times.
But the heart and soul of the story is about the problematic and sometimes contentious friction between fathers and sons. And the plays’ emotional impact is preeminent, notwithstanding the sophisticated set (Christine Jones), marvelous magic and stage illusions (Jamie Harrison), fabulous lighting design (Neil Austin), balletic movement by Steven Hoggett, clever costumes (Katrina Lindsay) and fine direction by John Tiffany, with Conner Wilson as resident director. Dementors fly above the audience, fire spurts from magic wands, some characters swim, others emerge from fireplaces, and it all looks natural and effortless.
Harry Potter’s John Skelley, Albus’s Benjamin Papac, and Scorpius’s Jon Steiger carry much of the challenging acting load and perform very effectively throughout. Charles Janasz stands out for his poignant performance as Professor Dumbledore, and Brittany Zeinstra is hilarious as Moaning Myrtle.
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is a huge time commitment. Part One is 2 hours and 40 minutes (including a 20-minute intermission), and Part Two is 2 hours and 35 minutes (including a 20-minute intermission). If you see both parts on the same day, you’ll need to arrive in advance of the 1:00 pm curtain (there’s a security check), spend about 2 and 1/2 hours between the performances (make dinner reservations in advance), and leave Part Two at approximately 9:30 pm. But you’ll see the whole event in one day. Alternatively, consecutive days might make more sense, especially for children.
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is an electrifying event to watch. More importantly, it is a gratifying emotional experience. Don’t miss it.
Emily S. Mendel
©Emily S. Mendel 2019 All Rights Reserved.