“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is not so much a play as a one-of-a-kind event and a spectacle. As a play, it is more than adequate. It tells an intriguing story, takes us on a pleasurable emotional ride, and entertains adequately.
As a spectacle, however, it is astonishing in every detail. No expense has been spared in any of the design elements, and world-class illusionists have stretched their skills to create something truly fantastic. Wizards fly and walk through walls. Characters transform magically into one another right before our eyes. Invisibility cloaks actually work—we see it happen. Ghosts and other more frightening creatures appear and disappear from nowhere. The action carries right into the house over the heads of the audience. Altogether, this wondrous accomplishment makes the best illusions on the best rides at Disneyland look like a Punch & Judy puppet show. Having strained for a while to find a word to describe this astonishing experience, I am left with perhaps the only word in the English language capable of hitting the mark: It’s supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.
The story has all the elements readers love about Harry Potter: familiar and wonderfully eccentric characters, rich thematic content accessible to young teenagers and preteens, magical adventures, engaging plot twists, and it’s all easy to follow.
From the opening, where we see multiple young wizards standing at the familiar Platform 9-1/2, we are successfully transported to the wizarding world. What? You’re not familiar with Platform 9-1/2? Don’t worry. Even if you have no previous knowledge of Harry Potter—is it even possible that you could be such a muggle?—you needn’t worry. You will soon be caught up in the story and the illusions, so relax and go with it.
This is a Potter for a new generation. Mr. Potter himself is now fully adult and has a responsible job with the Ministry of Magic. It is his son Albus who is off to Hogwart’s for the first time. Albus is performed with straightforward emotional honesty by the excellent film and television actor Benjamin Papac, who is making his professional stage debut with impressive assurance. On the train to Hogwart’s Albus befriends the rather nerdy Scorpius Malfoy (Jon Steiger), the son of Harry’s enemy Draco Malfoy. Papac and Steiger play this friendship with an easy intimacy that is a pleasure to enjoy and assure that the spectacle is always grounded in honest emotion, which is no mean feat amidst all the wonders on display. They are accompanied on their adventures by the bright and charming Rose Granger-Weasley (Hermione’s daughter, of course), wittily played by Folami Williams.
At Hogwart’s, it turns out that being the son of the famous Harry Potter is not all it’s cracked up to be, and things get even worse when it seems that the evil Lord Voldemort is preparing to make a comeback.
As young Albus struggles in his relationship with his famous father and tries to survive the social minefield that is Hogwarts, the plot thickens satisfactorily leading to a fabulous adventure by the end of which, not surprisingly, Albus and Scorpius save the entire wizarding world.
Along the way, there is a satisfying family drama with an appropriately happy ending plus the aforementioned fabulous special effects, which are the true star of this spectacle.
One of the pleasures of this production is that none of the actors, playing various eccentric wizards, gives in to any temptation to grandstand or ham it up, but play everything in a very straightforward manner, allowing the spectacle to be the star, as it should be.
But there is one notable exception: as Moaning Myrtle, Brittany Zeinstra pulls out all the stops in a deliciously over-the-top performance.
Bottom line: It ain’t Shakespeare, and the drama is lightweight at best. But the spectacle is, well, spectacular, and for Harry Potter fans, it’s worth the price of a ticket. Young theatergoers lucky enough to attend will have memories to last a lifetime.
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” continues an indefinite run at the Curran Theater. For further information, click here.
Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,’ by Jack Thorne. Based on a story by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, & John Tiffany. Director: John Tiffany. Movement Director: Steven Hoggett. Set Designer: Christine Jones. Costume Designer: Katrina Lindsay. Composer and Arranger: Imogen Heap. Lighting Designer: Neil Austin. Sound Designer: Gareth Fry. Illusions and Magic: Jamie Harrison. Music Supervisor and Arranger: Martin Lowe. Video Designers: Finn Ross and Ash J. Woodward. Hair, Wigs, and Make-up: Carole Hancock.
Cast: Ron Weasley: David Abeles. Madam Hooch: Thed Allyn. Cedric Diggory/James Potter Jr./James Potter Sr.: William Bednar-Carter. Professor McGonagall: Shannon Cochran. Craig Bowker Jr.: Irving Dyson Jr. Bane: Logan James Hall. Draco Malfoy: Lucas Hall. Yann Fredericks: Corey Hedy. Amos Diggery/Albus Dumbledore: Charles Janasz. Voice of Phone Box and Bookcase: Chris Jarman. Aunt Petunia/Trolley Witch/Dolores Umbridge: Katherine Leask. Uncle Vernon/Severus Snape/Lord Voldemort: Andrew Long. Hermione Granger: Yanna McIntosh. Delphi Diggory: Emily Juliette Murphy. Station Master: Steve O’Connell. Albus Potter: Benjamin Papac. Ginny Potter: Angela Reed. Sorting Hat/Hagrid: Julian Rozzell, Jr. Harry Potter: John Skelley. Scorpius Malfoy: Jon Steiger. Dudley Dorsley/Karl Jenkins/Victor Krum: Tuck Sweeney. Voice of Ludo Bagman: Paul Thornley. Rose Granger-Weasley/Young Hermione: Folami Williams. Polly Chapman: Lauren Zakrin. Moaning Myrtle/Lily Potter Sr.: Brittany Zeinstra. Young Harry Potter: Elijah Cooper/Tyler Patrick Hennessy. Lily Potter Jr.: Natalia Bingham/Natalie Adele Schroeder. Ensemble: Thed Allyn, William Bednar-Carter, Ebony Blake, Melanie Brezill, Irving Dyson Jr., Kita Grayson, Logan James Hall, Abbi Hawk, Corey Hedy, Kyle Hines, Nathan Hosner, Nicholas Hyland, Charles Janasz, Katherine Leask, Joel Leffert, Andrew Long, Lily Mojekwu, Emily Juliette Murphy, Steve O’Connell, Erik Evan Olson, Christian Pedersen, Julian Rozzell Jr., Tuck Sweeney, Geoffrey Wade, Folami Williams, Lauren Zakrin, Brittany Zeinstra