Theater Review: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” Opens in San Francisco
On a rainy Sunday in San Francisco, an eager crowd drew outside the doors of the Curran Theatre. It was opening night for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and the excitement levels were high; the lobby seemed to thrum with anticipation. Various screens assured theatergoers that “sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.” This new slogan was a promise to the audience: Throughout the seven-hour course of Parts One and Two, they would experience intricate, spellbinding depths of magic like they never had before.
The feeling of magic, however, is felt even before Part One began. Perhaps it’s the gorgeous, intricately detailed ceilings of the Curran Theatre, emanating a golden glow that sheathed both the stage and the audience. Or maybe it’s the lone window, lingering on ordinary suitcases, significant in its own way. The magic of Harry Potter has always been the type that awaits beneath the surface; this accessibility has intrigued fans for decades. The window’s light encourages the audience to look deeper and is an excellent representation of visual storytelling that the medium of theater offers. The West Coast production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’s set was designed by Christine Jones and makes an incredible first impression. With one misty window, the audience is transported from a mundane experience to an alternate reality where the extraordinary is within grasp. After Part One officially begins, the window changes into a clock, a subtle visual hint for the fluctuating, hazy aspects of time the story encounters.
There are further ways the production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child captures the magic of the original books: The story begins at King’s Cross, between Platforms 9 and 10, in the Muggle world, until the Potters run to platform nine and three-quarters. From the beginning of the production, Steven Hoggett’s fantastic choreography manifests the impression of magic in every movement made by the cast; just the swish of a cloak signals a shift in course. The transitions between the scenes were as impressive as the scenes themselves since the cast takes advantage of the rotating stage and various props to guide the audience through magical reality. When the Potters step toward platform nine and three-quarters to await the Hogwarts Express, so does the audience.
It’s a testament to the incredible cast that the audience’s vision of magical realism is never shattered. The set may begin the elaborate storytelling experience that a play promises, but it falls to the cast to truly embody and let the audience engage with this story, and they were unforgettable. Even the way John Skelley takes up space on the stage was unmistakably Harry Potter – he captures the character’s fierce and stubborn personality with ease. Jon Steiger, who had previously worked on the New York production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, plays Scorpius Malfoy effortlessly. In one scene, while other characters were discussing a course of action, Steiger is still the embodiment of the perpetually anxious Slytherin. He taps his feet, he fidgets, and when he interrupts with his dialogue, it’s incredibly natural. Benjamin Papac’s Albus Potter is every inch the despairing, fierce teenager that Harry himself was. Papac’s thoughtful representation inspires the audience to draw parallels and truly understand the character of Albus as he struggles to understand himself.
The very first scene is a perfect example of Papac’s stellar acting. While the Granger-Weasleys and the Potters chat, the audience notices that Albus is clearly distressed, frowning before he blurts out his biggest worry to his father: What if he was Sorted into Slytherin? These indirect actions add depth to his character, almost rewarding the audience for paying attention to all the nuanced moments of the story.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is produced with exhaustive thought and effort, and it shows in every single element. Jamie Harrison’s work with illusions and magic during scenes of the play is surreal and enchanting, further evidence that the cast and crew elevate the story to inconceivable levels. Ultimately, the San Francisco production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is remarkable to experience; performed within the gilded ceilings of the Curran Theatre, it is sure to leave an impact – magical or otherwise – on all its audiences.