Review: A shortened script is the necessary ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ magic trick

Delphi Diggory (Brittany Zeinstra, left), Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger) and Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac) star in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at the Curran. Photo: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade / Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender and Harry Potter Theatrical Productions

Sometimes a cut is so smart, so elegant that you don’t even notice the loss. You could have sworn the script was always written that way.

In “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” now condensed from two long evenings of theater to a single three-hour, 35-minute session, the cut paradoxically adds to the spectacle.

The story of a grown-up Harry Potter as a clumsy father and his misunderstood teenage son Albus often felt baggy and procrastinating when it premiered at the Curran Theater in 2019. Now streamlined, he sings. Relationships feel richer, and the special effects that melt stone, breathe fire, and crush bone are even more powerful.

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San Francisco Mayor London Breed toasts with butterbeer at a block party ahead of the opening night of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at the Curran in San Francisco on February 24. Photo: Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

The show officially opened on Thursday, February 24, after an extended preview period and an additional two weeks due to COVID, with some kind of pre-show special effect in the form of a block party on Geary Street with confetti and free butterbeer (very caramel-cheeky).

Participants competed in a costume contest with capes and sashes, ties and wands, waistcoats and blazers with badges, turbans and pointed witch hats. San Francisco Mayor London Breed appeared, pronouncing the date for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Day” in the city and announcing that City Hall would be lit in Hogwarts colors “in all houses so everyone feels included.”

Jaclyn Lee (right) joins others to dress up in costume at the block party ahead of the opening night of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at The Curran in SF Photo: Scott Strazzante/The Chronicle

In the show itself, which was written by Jack Thorne (and adapted from a story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany), illusion and magic maker Jamie Harrison’s effects begin instantly, transforming clothes from town in wizarding cloaks, spouting smoke from ears, sucking normal-sized humans into a payphone, growing rake-sized talons from fingernails.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” returns to the two-part condensed Curran at a theater night. Photo: Evan Zimmerman for MurphyMade / Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender and Harry Potter Theatrical Productions

Less tech choices are just as wonderful. If you’re unfamiliar with the Potterverse, director Tiffany finds ingenious and economical ways to give you just enough context, often rolling out his sizable and well-rehearsed set, complete with motion direction from Steven Hoggett.

Need to show which rock star Harry Potter (John Skelley) is in the wizarding world? Have someone run up to him and have him sign his name in Sharpie on his stomach.

Want to show how Albus (Benjamin Papac) is far behind his Hogwarts peers? Choreograph a sequence without words in which all the novice wizards are led by their wands, like tails wagging their dogs, but make Albus’ clumsiness seem even worse, like a goat whose front legs and hind legs have spirits different.

Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger, left) and Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac) in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at the Curran. Photo: Matthew Murphy / Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender and Harry Potter Theatrical Productions

Jon Steiger as Scorpius Malfoy, Albus’ misfit fellow student at Hogwarts, stands out among the stellar cast, much like the pre-pandemic version. He marries a range of cleverly crafted mannerisms – a chirping timbre, gestures like a baby bird flapping its wings that keeps realizing it’s too scared to leave the nest – with impeccable comedic timing and easy, unhurried confidence. . (Keep an eye out for this young talent.)

The story itself combines the epic grandeur of myth – magical beings in a fight of good versus evil in the skies – with the time travel dilemmas of “Back to the Future”, the hypothetical ones if you don’t. were ever born of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the thrills of an adventure ride, including a very small splash zone and fireballs and bursts of flamethrowers – a heat that you can feel on your eyebrows many rows from the stage.

Harry Potter (John Skelley, left) and Albus Potter (Benjamin Papac) in ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ at the Curran. Photo: Matthew Murphy / Sonia Friedman Productions, Colin Callender and Harry Potter Theatrical Productions

It’s a testament to the rich vision of the story and the commitment of the cast that these shows don’t overshadow but reinforce the deep feelings at the heart of the series – how hard it is for fathers and sons to say they love each other; how easy it is to take best friends for granted; how enticing a different life, a different family can seem when you are being bullied.

“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is a show where props levitate and actors fly, but it’s also a show where two characters only have a few moments of life together to express the love they spent repressing their whole lives, or one where the burden of reliving a traumatic origin story can be shared by friends and family who stand shoulder to shoulder with courage and love.

NOT“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”: Written by Jack Thorne, based on a story by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. Directed by John Tiffany. Open-ended race. Three hours, 35 minutes. $69 to $329. Curran, 445 Geary St., SF https://sf.harrypottertheplay.com



  • Lily Janiak


    Lily Janiak is the theater critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @LilyJaniak

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