Harry Potter on Stage




Matthew Murphy

What happens when The Boy Who Lived grows up, only to find that the world he saved is no longer safe, and his own child may be most in danger? 

That’s the premise of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a magical production that opened Dec. 1 at San Francisco’s Curran Theater, after several weeks of previews, for what is expected to be a multiyear run.

Told in two parts, the show is packed with special effects and stagecraft that are jaw-droppingly stunning and gasp-inducing: flame-throwing wands, flying wizards, characters transforming into others seemingly before your eyes, and some best left as a surprise.

But the real magic of this show is its emotional core, a heartfelt story about love – between unlikely friends, struggling fathers and their sons, and parents tested by worry and the too-familiar challenge of keeping their children safe.

The Plot Thickens 

The eighth story in the Harry Potter saga, it picks up 19 years later with Harry (John Skelley) as an overworked Ministry of Magic official whose angst-ridden middle child, Albus (Benjamin Papac), is about to embark on his own journey to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He soon links up with Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger), the son of his father’s schooldays nemesis, who has inherited none of his father’s villainy and is instead an endearing nerd.

The duo’s quest to right a past wrong sets off a series of events with unforeseen and potentially disastrous consequences.

Like its predecessors, Cursed Child leavens its heavy good vs. evil tale with whimsical wizardry and well-timed humor, often courtesy of Ron Weasley (David Abeles), now managing a joke shop and married to the imposing Minister of Magic, Hermione Granger (Yanna McIntosh). Though the show is not a musical, several instrumental interludes provide an opportunity for impressive cape-swirling choreography. The moving staircases of the books and movies are artfully employed and play a central role in the storytelling.

The San Francisco production joins those in London, where the show debuted in 2016, New York and Melbourne. It’s the most awarded play in theater history, with six Tony awards including Best Play.

While super Potter fandom isn’t required to enjoy the show, those unfamiliar with the storylines and characters are bound to miss many of the references, and the time-travel plot and flashbacks may prove confusing. (For those not concerned about spoilers, the script was published in book form and provides an excellent cheat sheet.)

A Transformed Theater

No doubt the show will be a huge draw for Potter fans, who were so eager to buy tickets initially that the website crashed. Many in attendance at the opening proudly sported their house colors and cloaks, and the theater itself helps set the stage for the wizards’ world with great attention to detail, down to the ushers’ lapel pins. The Curran, which reopened in January 2017 after a two-year renovation, has again been transformed, with carpeting, textiles, paint and more specific to the show.

The play is recommended for ages 10 and up, and no children under 4 will be admitted. Much of the subject matter is dark, with plenty of references to death and murder, and some of the effects may be frightening for young children. But the biggest hurdle for little theatergoers could be the length of the show, with each part running more than two-and-a-half hours, including a 20-minute intermission. For those seeing both parts back to back, it’s a marathon.

Parts One and Two are performed, with a two-plus hour break in between, on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, starting at 1 or 2 p.m. Part One takes place on Thursday evenings, followed by Part Two on Friday. 

Pro tip: For those seeing both parts on the same day, book an early dinner reservation to avoid waiting in long lines with others anxious to return to the theater. Area restaurants with show specials are listed on its website.

Tickets are $59-199 per part. Additional tickets, for performances through July 12, will be released on Friday, Dec. 6. A “Friday Forty” drawing, in which winners receive up to two tickets to both shows the following week for $40 ($20 per part), is held weekly on Fridays through the show’s website and the TodayTix website and app.

For tickets and more information, click here.

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