Theater Review: HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD (Curran Theatre in San Francisco)

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by Stacy Trevenon on February 25, 2022

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

A MAGICAL TREAT

Going into San Francisco’s famed, 100-year-old Curran Theater for the opening night of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, theatergoers must have felt like Harry did when he stepped on board the Hogwarts Express in 1997, bound for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was the first journey readers took with Harry when they cracked open that first novel of J.K. Rowling’s storied Harry Potter series. Since then, the Express has roared through numerous novels, spinoffs, films, video games, British and American awards, and the bestowing of the title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire upon Rowling.

Ron Weasley (Steve O’Connell), Hermione Granger (Lily Mojekwu),
Rose Granger-Weasley (Folami Williams), James Potter Jr. (William Bednar-Carter),
Harry Potter (John Skelley), Ginny Potter (Angela Reed), and Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac) Scene from the San Francisco production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Now the latest adventure has roared into the Curran station with this three-hour, 30-minute stage play, which officially opened last night, Feb. 24, to an appreciative audience of diehard Potter fans, many appropriately costumed. It appeared that none were daunted by the length of the play, nor seemed the least disappointed. Since the show was shuttered by COVID at The Curran, someone’s wand has been reworking the original epic two-part play (which had required separate admissions) into this new evening-length version. The story by J.K. Rowling, director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne has been tightened while the production loses none of its splendor. (This same redaction is also on Broadway and in Toronto; productions in Melbourne, Australia, London’s West End and Hamburg, Germany will continue in the original two-part format.)

Amos Diggory (Charles Janasz), Delphi Diggory (Brittany Zeinstra), Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac),
and Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger)Harry Potter (John Skelley), Hermione Granger (Lily Mojekwu), and Ron Weasley (Steve O’Connell)

From the get-go, in classic “Potter” tradition, the play skillfully blends the real and the fantastical. Patrons entered the newly decorated theater featuring carpeting and wallpaper bearing Hogwarts iconography that set the tone for the performance. During the production, figures in flowing and spectral costumes swung like wraiths over viewers’ heads from the ceiling, while themes delved into pertinent issues such as friendship, bullying, parental disappointment and mistakes, and treasures forged, lost and recovered.

Delphi Diggory (Brittany Zeinstra), Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger), Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac) Scene from the San Francisco production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

The play, divided into two parts of two acts each, seamlessly follows Rowling’s classic characters. Act I begins nineteen years after Harry was first sorted into Gryffindor, where he met his future best friends, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, and his future nemesis Draco Malfoy. Making the new play all the more pertinent for today’s audiences, it overlaps into the now, when Harry is head of Hogwarts’ Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic. He and wife Ginny (Ron’s sister, now the editor of the Daily Prophet sports section) are sending their younger son Albus Severus Potter to Hogwarts to reluctantly follow in his father’s footsteps.

 Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac) and Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger)Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger) and Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac)

At the same time, Ron (manager of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in endearing Potter location Diagon Alley), now married to Hermione (who is Minister of Magic) are sending their daughter Rose to the same destination. On that first trip, Albus forms a friendship with Scorpius Malfoy, the polite and nerdy son of Draco. While Potters are usually sorted into Gryffindor, Albus and Scorpius wind up in Slytherin. Both boys face bullying: Albus who cannot live up to his father’s name and Scorpius who faces unproven rumors that he (by virtue of a Time-Turner) is the son of the evil Lord Voldemort.

Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger), Moaning Myrtle (Cynthia Jimenez-Hicks),
and Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac) Scene from the San Francisco production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

Keeping up with endless public thirst for something new, this play re-introduces the Time-Turner, of which Albus learns when, home on a school break, he hears Harry talking to an old man named Amos Diggory, who is in a wheelchair. Amos is imploring Harry to go back in time to save his (Amos’s) only son Cedric, but Harry denies the Time-Turner’s existence and refuses. Enter Delphi, Amos’s niece and caregiver. She along with Albus and Scorpius hatch a plan to go back in time and right the misdeeds of the past. What follows is Potter-appropriate devices of paradoxical time travel, good revealed as evil, a possibility that Harry has died (or was never born at all) and that the world is filled with darkness under Voldemort. It is up to Albus, Snape, Hermione, Ginny, Harry, Ron and Draco to set things right.

Dolores Umbridge (Shannon Cochran)Hermione Granger (Lily Mojekwu), Ron Weasley (Steve O’Connell), Ginny Potter (Angela Reed),
Harry Potter (John Skelley), and Draco Malfoy (Lucas Hall)

Between Christine Jones‘s setting and Thorne‘s script, both Rowling’s genius and today’s real world are included. Wizards, muggles (ordinary folk), dark Dementors, respected professors, all deal with downfalls and sadness. Fantastical beings dissect themes of standing up to bullying and righting wrongs. Respected professors offer wisdom. To the joy of theatergoers, magic is never ignored, with Jamie Harrison‘s cinematic-level illusions and Neil Austin‘s lighting effects both employed to create the appropriate atmosphere. In this fantastical stage setting, actors smoothly walked the line between fantasy and reality. And though this is not a musical per se, it features wonderful and lively choreography thanks to movement director Steven Hoggett’s plethora of sparkling, waving wands — inarguably a Potter touch and the backbone of this production.

Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger), Draco Malfoy (Lucas Hall), Ginny Potter (Angela Reed),
Harry Potter (John Skelley), Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac), Hermione Granger (Lily Mojekwu),
and Ron Weasley (Steve O’Connell) Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger), and Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac)

This was a particularly busy cast, flipping in and out of multiple roles as briskly as a wave of a wand, while rising to the occasion of presenting beloved young literary characters in adult lives believably and satisfyingly. In the particularly familiar titular role of Harry, John Skelley does a fine job of stepping into big literary shoes. Likewise Angela Reed’s Ginny, Lily Mojekwu’s Hermione and Steve O’Connell’s Ron, all successfully bring fans up to today. Lucas Hall satisfies as a villainous Draco Malfoy while giving today’s viewers something to think about. Near-slapstick humor, and dignity, are not ignored: Eleasha Gamble as Madam Hooch and Shannon Cochran as Professor McGonagall, respectively, see to that. Geoffrey Wade delightfully pulls off double duty as Severus Snape and Lord Voldemort. Logan James Hall seizes his moments as a wonderful Sorting Hat. And Folami Williams tugs heartstrings as Rose Granger-Weasley. All the actors realize the true nature of these familiar characters without resorting to impersonations of the original screen actors.

Albus Dumbledore (Charles Janasz)

Opening night set the production’s tone with a greeting by San Francisco Mayor London Nicole Breed, wearing a wizarding robe and joined on the outdoor presentation stage by the Sorting Hat (Mr. Hall), who sorted her into the Gryffindor house where Harry Porter himself was also directed. Mayor Breed then declared this to be Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Day in San Francisco, and figuratively welcomed all onto Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at Kings Cross, bound for Hogwarts. These devices were beautifully timed to wrap audience members in a tone of magic even before the curtain went up.

photos by Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
445 Geary Street in San Francisco
open run (tix currently on-sale through Sunday, September 4, 2022)
for tickets, visit harrypottertheplaysf

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