"The boy who lived" lives again. Harry Potter, the wizard in training for seven blockbuster novels and eight movies, has hit the boards. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the two-part, four-act theatrical drama that has already become the toast of the West End, Broadway, and Australia, launches a West Coast premiere at the Curran in San Francisco.
Beginning where the epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ended, Harry (John Skelley) and wife Ginny drop their middle child Albus (Benjamin Papac) off for year one at Hogwarts. Rose (Folami Williams), the daughter of Ron (David Abeles) and Hermione Weasley (Yanna McIntosh), has also started at Hogwarts, but Albus finds himself instead drawn to a new friend: Scorpius (Jon Steiger), the son of his father's nemesis Draco Malfoy (Lucas Hall). The other students taunt both Albus and Scorpius, and the two's resentments give rise to revelations and treacheries long dormant.
Jack Thorne, who penned this new chapter in the Harry Potter saga, based the play on a story conjured by him, director John Tiffany, and Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. Shifting the story to the younger generation grants the writers an opportunity to evaluate how the sins of the parents are visited on the kids, as well as how children rebel from their elders, particularly when that earlier generation is stiflingly famous. Parenthood has its challenges for Harry too. He seems so withdrawn and dysfunctional that he feels like a completely different person from the man we knew in the books.
The play's central villain lacks the terror Lord Voldemort conveyed and seems more like a B-story antagonist. The script also unnecessarily pulls out popular characters from the first seven books to please the fans. The story works best when it focuses on the two boys rather than their parents.
Of the cast, the MVPs are young Papac and Steiger. They treat their characters' traumas as vital and the audience is forced to care. Hall, showing a more contrite side to Draco Malfoy, is also dynamic. McIntosh captures Hermione's stoicism, intelligence, and awkward humor. Skelley, however, is a bit histrionic as the title character, conveying none of the initiative and wonderment of Harry in the novels and films. He's stuffy, like a carbon-copy Mr. Banks who accidentally wandered in from Mary Poppins. Abeles is more agitating than quirky as a grown-up Ron. In a cameo, Brittany Zeinstra is hilariously loopy as Moaning Myrtle.
Tiffany's pacing is like a whizzing bullet. Four-and-a-half hours never flew by so fast. Movement director Steven Hoggett choreographs every step so that the ensemble can change out furniture and coordinate their staging with precision. Flowing robes flicked by the cast are effectively used as punctuation. The special effects. led by illusions and magic designer Jamie Harrison. are cleverly crafted. When wires or stagehands in black are responsible for lending in the effects, lighting designer Neil Austin refuses to reveal the tricks. Time travel is handled cleverly, aided by Finn Ross and Ash Woodward's video design and Gareth Fry's sound. The dementors have heft and float above the audience eerily as if blowing through a wind tunnel.
Potterheads will definitely rejoice at this new part of the series, with its familiar themes and unexpected cameos by heroes and villains past, but for those new to the series or less immersed in the Potterverse, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child may need a stronger script to put them under a spell.