A dense and gray afternoon gave way to a bustling collection of buzzing fans, as they queued up to enter the Curran Theatre. A mixture of business casual wear and iconic Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry house colors mingled in the crowd of patrons to the theater’s opening of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.” The theater itself, while small, boasted luxurious carpets branded with a familiar “H” and a tidy array of merchandise-buying opportunities peppered throughout the multileveled venue. It was assured that given the lobby’s excessive commitment to the show, the stage itself would be far from disappointing.
Like the exterior of the theater, the stage is similarly petite — though what it lacks in size it more than compensates for in elaborate set decoration. Towering archways stretch high into the wings, the stage itself made impossibly large for the grand construction. Over the course of the show, the arches, though massive, prove to be highly mobile as their ever-shifting positions are an integral element of the set design. The pieces, initially reading as overtly indicative of a railway station, are hyperversatile. Their use as a background for the ministry, the familiar Platform 9 3/4 and Hogwarts serves as a chameleonic testament to the creativity of the team behind the show.
Beyond this, the fourth wall is no barrier for the production. Various elements of the show are directed out into the audience, simultaneously engaging the crowd and expanding the onstage world. The opening of the play sees the Granger-Weasleys and the Potters gearing up for their children’s first year at Hogwarts. And rather than making the rear of the stage the locale for the mystical moment when the children would charge through the pillar, this moment is staged outward. The students charge toward the audience before a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it coat-and-lighting change lands the group at the wondrously in between Platform 9 3/4.
The entirety of the show is imbued with these creative work arounds, but even more significant are the acts of magic the show delivers. From punchy duels to polyjuice transformations, over and over the audience is enthralled by the sheer feats of technical and artistic mastery that make up the show’s magic.
And that magic, beyond spells and mischievous bookcases, is a throughline for the entire production. The show’s cast members similarly deliver nothing short of that same magic in their performances. Benjamin Papac, playing Albus Potter, and Jon Steiger, playing Scorpius Malfoy, are a perfectly kinetic pair. Their energy is infectious, and their story tender and relatable. The two actors saturate their performances with the universal themes of the importance of friendship — their chemistry is palpable. The pair are perfect foils, their differences fostering an easy growth over the course of the show. With the source material largely abandoning the golden trio configuration, the demands on the two stars are high. But Papac and Steiger both meet and exceed these expectations.
Still, arguably more significant, are the shoes of the original trio themselves. John Skelley (Harry Potter), Yanna McIntosh (Hermione Granger) and David Abeles (Ron Weasley) meet these demands with enthusiasm, stepping into the roles with authenticity and a clear understanding of the characters. Skelley articulates Harry’s trauma with visceral emotion, offering a remarkable range. In this struggle lies a true-to-form maturation of the young hero into a complex and nuanced father — and in this struggle rests the heart of the play.
Where Scorpius serves in contrast to Albus, Lucas Hall’s Draco Malfoy brings a familiar bite to his role in contrast to Harry. Hall and Skelley are able to channel the charged antagonism that riddled the characters’ relationship in the original story into their roles onstage. And the way this works to construct a difficult father-son relationship for them all is a marvel to behold.
For all of these devices and more the show has earned itself a reputation as one of the most enchanting shows onstage — and its San Francisco debut is no exception.
Tickets are now on sale for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at the Curran Theatre.
Areyon Jolivette is the assistant arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].