By Gary Meyer
It was opening day of the San Francisco production of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD and we found ourselves talking with a woman during the intermission of Part One. A friend invited her but she had been skeptical since other than being aware of Harry Potter she knew very little about the books, movies or characters beyond that it was a popular culture phenomenon. She had read the informative “Journey to the Eight Story” in the program book and that was helping her understand who and what are important in the narrative (see below). She said she was hooked by the first act and certainly the cliffhanger at its end was a mind-blower that had us all anxious for more.
When the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, came out in 1997 we were surprised that our nine-year-old son, never much interested in reading, devoured the 309 page volume and did so with each successive entry in the series. As happened with millions of other young people, his interest in reading turned around. Our family jumped in but as much as I enjoyed the first three books, I never got around to reading the last four. The same happened when the stories were adapted for the big screen with some of the world’s best directors vying for a chance to be at the helm. The world moved on and somehow I was felt sort of left behind, dipping into some films and missing others.
But we wanted to be there for Opening Night of the second U.S. production. It is a hot ticket in New York, London and three other international cities—and now San Francisco. I had been assured that with a small amount of advance planning I should be able to follow along.
Whereas the books and movies followed Harry, his friends and enemies through their youth at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the new play starts years later. Harry is now a 37-year-old somewhat bored bureaucrat for the Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic and is married to Ginny Weasley. Their second son Albus Severus Potter is going to Hogwarts for the first time and they meet their long-time friends Hermione (also Harry’s boss) and Ron on Platform Nine and Three Quarters at the King’s Cross Station where they are seeing their daughter Rose off to school as well.
On the train Albus becomes unlikely best friends with Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry’s arch-enemy Draco Malfoy, but with rumors that he might be the son of the evil dark lord Voldemort. Upon arrival at Hogwarts the Sorting Ceremony finds Harry going into the Slytherin , a house that has turned out several evil people, He had expected to be assigned to Gryffindor House where his family has historically resided. But this means he can be close to his new friend.
And we are off and running with nine scenes in Act One alone.
It is best not to tell you more. In fact the audience is asked not to reveal much to those who have not seen the play. I will only say that the plot is full of satisfying twists and surprises. At its core are issues that sometimes find fathers and sons at odds with each other—worried they can’t live up to expectations— in the context of high adventure, magic and romance. Even if you are a bit confused at times, don’t worry and just allow the play to pull you into its world. The experience will be highly gratifying. You can always go to one of the websites below to read the details of each act after you see the show.
This is not a national touring company where the cast and crew must adapt to different theaters and stages in each new city. The beautifully restored Curran Theater has been further modified for HARRY POTTER in hopes that it settles in for a long run.
The entire cast is first rate, some playing multiple parts. We believe in every one of them, caring about their challenges both physical and emotional. Benjamin Papac as Albus makes us consider the internal struggles he faces trying to live up to his father’s reputation while wanting to be his own person. Jon Steiger portrays Scorpius as sensitive, smart and funny but hurt as he is scorned because of those nasty rumors about his possible father. Offering balance and the possibility of romance is Folami Williams as Rose. John Skelly plays the conflicted Harry convincingly and we feel for him as his emotions and fates shift.
These are the leads who engage us for over five hours we spend in the world created by J.K. Rowling as adapted for stage by the author with Tony-winning co-writers Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany. The actors bring an emotional resonance and believability to the production.
Other standouts include the very funny Moaning Myrtle inhabited by Brittany Zeinstra and the touching Professor Dumbledore played by Charles Janasz.
The magic is truly magical as created under the direction Jamie Harrison with local supervision by San Francisco illusionist Andrew Evans. Though I have been an amateur magician much of my life and have some ideas about how certain effects might have been accomplished, I prefer to just be amazed as people and objects levitate, fingers triple in length, quicksand seems to suck our cast away, disappearances occur in phone booths, morphing and transformations happen and fire appears at the most surprising times— all before our eyes.
And then there are the mind-boggling (and soul sucking) Dementors flying in the most surprising places. Possibly the most talked about effect, the Time Turner seems to pull the audience into its spell of time travel which is sure to cause trouble despite the good intentions of Albus and Scorpius. But we don’t mind as we want to experience that swirling sensation again as they continue to trying to “turn” things around.
All of this is part of the package that includes spectacular sets, extraordinary lighting and wonderful music (recorded rather than live was a complaint I heard but who would have time to notice?).
Oh—and the owls.
This is not a musical but it is highly choreographed with the large cast performing several “dance numbers” that are electrifying surprises. The four-suite score is a monumental work by singer-songwriter Imogen Heap and can be listened to as a stand-alone album. (listen to selections here)
The wide-ranging set of emotions we feel are balanced with plenty of humor. There are “in jokes” for Potter fans but plenty of other sly references that result in laughs from different parts of the theater.
During the intermission of Part Two our new friend enthusiastically told us she wished that it would never end. There had been more cliffhangers at the end of each act. Was there another to come? We agreed that would be terrific because it would suggest Parts Three and Four are in our future.
The creators of this production couldn’t ask for a better reaction than that.
All photos by Matthew Murphy.
Curran Theater, San Francisco Website for more information, videos and tickets- now on sale through July, 2020.
See below for our suggestions about attending HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD. Plus websites and much more.
“Journey to the Eight Story” download. This will provide you with essential background information to get the most from the show.
“So You Know Nothing About “Harry Potter”? Let’s Catch You Up”- The New York Times very helpful primer to prepare anyone for the play without giving away its secrets.
After you have seen the play you might check put this Study Guide that will provide a scene-by-scene description of the action on GrAdeSaver.
Read the Official Playscript.
Get the soundtrack on your favorite platform including vinyl, CD or streaming.
Read an interview with composer Imogen Heap on Fader.
Discover Your Hogwarts House With An AR Sorting Hat Ceremony
“Behind the Magic of ‘Harry Potter’ Onstage– a fascinating KQED Forum podcast with Andrew Evans, the local magic coordinator for the show and the actors who play Albus and Harry Potter. They discuss learning to do the magic that is live and not movie special effects.
Andrew Evans was chosen to be the SF Illusions & Magic Lead, working with the local cast and crew of HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD to make sure the magic on stage fools the audience while blending into the story. Evans has his own intimate theater, The Magic Patio and was recently featured in the SF Chronicle.
MAGIC TRICKS AND DYI PROJECTS
Be the local Harry Potter with ten easy Magic Tricks you can do.
J.K. Rowling Official Website
Wizarding World is the Official Home of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts with many articles of interest for both beginners and 20 year veterans.
Things to know before you go.
HOW TO SEE THE PLAY
If possible I suggest you try to see both parts in one marathon day. The entire epic, including intermissions, runs nearly six hours that speed by. There will be a 2 ½ hour dinner break (making this an 8 ½ hour experience). Matinees of Part One are on Sundays at 1pm, Saturdays and Wednesdays at 2pm. The accompanying evening shows of Part Two start at 6:30 on Sundays (out about 9:15), 7:30 (out about 10:15pm) on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The only evening performances of Part One are on Thursdays with Part Two on Friday. You certainly can break it up in various ways but I urge you enjoy both parts as close as possible to each other. See details here.
What is the Friday Forty? 40 tickets for every performance are released on Fridays for the following week. These tickets are only $40 ($20 per part). It is like a lottery (but free to enter). Full details here.
Enjoy the way the producers have made the Curran their home with new lush wallpaper and blood-red carpets, all covered with fancy Hs. And they have provided more toilets than any live theater I have been too. The lines move fast.
If at all possible try to take public transit. Parking is expensive and driving in downtown San Francisco will drive you crazy. If you can take BART, the train, Muni or buses you will be happier. If you coming from outside San Francisco go to a BART or train station near you and park there. You will avoid the congestion. Ferry boats are another option from Marin, Oakland and Alameda but check the schedules for going home. The 511 Transit Planner can help.
If you must drive check the Curran website for info on affordable advance booking for parking.
WHERE TO EAT
The Curran has made arrangements for discounts and special meals at six excellent restaurants in the immediate area. As many places do not open for dinner until 5pm, these establishments are expecting audiences earlier. There are many great choices in the neighborhood. The SF Chronicle’s food critics recently compiled a list of their favorites around nearby Union Square.
SF Eater and The Infatuation offer lists that include some great ethnic restaurants for the more adventurous and budget conscious. Off-the-beaten path but only a few blocks away in the Tenderloin are Indian, Pakistani, Moroccan, Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican and Thai cuisines among others.
Gary Meyer learned his first magic trick when he was seven and was soon doing magi shows at parties and fund-raisers. He started his first theater in the family barn when he was twelve-years-old. He directed a monster movie there and wanted to show it on the set. It became The Above-the-Ground Theatre screening dozens of silent films with music arranged from his parents’ record collection. Over 250 films were screened along with live productions, workshops and the publication of a literary/arts/satire zine, “Nort!” and a film newsletter, “Ciné.” After film school at SFSU he calls his first job as a booker for United Artists Theatres “grad school” that prepared him to co-found Landmark Theatres in 1975. It was the first national arthouse chain in the U.S. focused on creative marketing strategies to build loyal audiences for non-Hollywood fare. After selling Landmark, he consulted on many projects including Sundance Cinemas and the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Rose Cinemas, created several film festivals including the Dockers Classically Independent Film Festival and Tube Film Festival for the X Games, and resurrected the 1926 Balboa Theatre in San Francisco. Meyer joined the Telluride Film Festival in 1998, becoming a Festival Co-Director in 2007-2014. He founded the online magazine, EatDrinkFilms.com in April 2014. In December 2019 Meyer was honored to be named Essential SF.