Review: Despite some lull, Curran’s ‘Cursed Child’ is a jaw-dropping tour through Harry’s world

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(L to R) Harry Potter (John Skelley) teaches his son Albus (Benjamin Papac) about the power of the wand in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” at the Curran Theater in San Francisco. (Matthew Murphy photo)

One of the greatest appeals of the character of Harry Potter is how ordinary he is despite his elevated status in the wizarding world. His bespectacled face, consternation towards his adopted family, longing for his actual family and resistance towards the greatness that has been thrust upon him makes him entirely relatable.

Years after Hogwarts, it turns out, kid Harry is not a whole lot different than adult Harry. He is now a man who functions in an important yet banal nine to five job at the Ministry of Magic while trying to figure out how to connect to his son Albus, who is having plenty of his own struggles. And that one big struggle for Albus has a lot to do with living in the shadow of his very famous dad.

The new two-part production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” which has settled into a nice long stay at the Curran Theater in San Francisco, will certainly thrill fans and non-fans alike. While the story has its unfortunate moments of lull where long swaths of exposition substitute for plot advancement, so much of the show is loaded with moments of head-scratching, eye-popping special effects that are incredibly magical and thrilling.

The show, which premiered in London in 2016 followed by a Broadway premiere two years later, comes in two parts, built beautifully on the concepts of daring and adventure. There isn’t a huge prerequisite to watching both shows if you can’t tell the difference between a muggle and a muzzle, but knowledge of the books or movies, especially the fourth chapter “Goblet of Fire,” proved helpful. And based on the abundance of wands and scarves that were seen throughout the theatre at opening, there were plenty of folks who had a lot more than a passing interest in the wizarding world, the production a continuation of the epic seven-part book series created by author J.K. Rowling.

It is a new generation of Hogwarts as the kids are now coming into their own, heading to school via arguably the most famous train platform in literature. Harry (John Skelley) and his wife Ginny (Angela Reed) are sending their son Albus (Benjamin Papac) on the Hogwarts Express. Potter the young is joined by Rose (Folami Williams), the daughter of joke-shop manager Ron Weasley (David Abeles) and his whip-smart wife Hermione (Yanna McIntosh), who now serves as the Minister of Magic.

While the hallmark of the first book, “The Sorcerer’s Stone,” is the instant friction between Gryffindor’s Harry and Slytherin’s Draco Malfoy (played by Lucas Hall here as an adult), there is an immediate alliance between Draco’s son Scorpius (Jon Steiger) and Albus, who are now connected by their assigned house.

Albus and Scorpius share a commonality they face via the bullying from fellow students as the years go on. They are also motivated by a desire to right a wrong during book four’s Tri-Wizard tournament years prior. In addition, there is a new villain to reckon with, the powerful and evil Delphi (Emily Juliette Murphy).

There are some absolutely thrilling moments that are achieved through the show’s technical aspects. Director John Tiffany is given the most stunning tools to create a complicated world that the famous Potter characters inhabit. Led by set designer Christine Jones, lighting designer Neil Austin and sound designer Gareth Fry, so much of the show is punctuated with surreal touches, a flourishing of visual and auditory thrills to button the end of each act.

While the show is loaded with sound that literally shakes the earth beneath you, along with creating a world that does not stay grounded (Jamie Harrison is credited with the great illusion and magic work), so many honest touches of Rowling’s multi-layered characters are wonderful.

While much will deservedly be made of those great technical effects that the show is built on, the heart of the show is in how insightful it is, with each character searching and discovering their own morality through mortality.

Just notice all of the wisdom that comes from worldly sage Albus Dumbledore (Charles Janasz), who delivers heartbreaking insight to Harry, a man whose cross to bear is being responsible for so many deaths so he can be the boy who lived – “Those that we love never truly leave us, Harry. There are things that death cannot touch.” It is scintillating brilliance from the moral core of Potter world. And Harry, who is still being educated by everyone around him, is on a path to find his purpose as a father, husband and a man.

“Harry Potter” has always functioned much like some of William Shakespeare’s most delicious plays – so many life lessons and truths come from the pages and situations of Rowling’s rich, conflicted characters. Despite a script that tends to dash and dart in too many convoluted directions, the show is a spectacle of magic and morality, and this latest chapter assures us all that the boy who lived will continue to thrill for a very long time.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

The Curran Theater presents “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”
Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
Directed by John Tiffany
The Word: A script that labors too much in moments, yet still thrills. The end result is a show that longtime and new Potter fans will eat up. The spectacle is eye-popping, jaw-dropping and head-scratching, a magical feast for the senses.
Stars: 4 out of 5
Running Times:
Part I – Two hours, 40 minutes
Part II – Two hours, 35 minutes
Both parts include a 20-minute intermission
The Curran Theater
445 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA
Open-ended – Tickets on sale through July 6th
Tickets range from $59 – $199 per part
For tickets, visit www.harrypotteronstage.com

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