What would it have been like to attend a certain school of magic while a certain bespectacled student was there stealing the limelight? Move over Gryffindor, this is the story of The Puffs — the seemingly dud house at Hogwarts where the students’ loftiest ambition is to take home third prize, if they’re lucky. (It’s an HP-inspired show. Here’s our review!)
Hogwarts on its Head
The play originally opened for a grown-up audience at New York’s Peoples Improv Theater and had an extended midtown run before its latest open-ended production at New World Stages. The weekend performances are billed as appropriate for all ages — but we’re suggesting 8 and up. (Turns out puberty can be just as awkward in wizard school as grade school!)
The play races through an edited version of the seven Harry Potter books but it’s another orphaned wizard, Wayne, raised by his uncle in New Mexico, who is the central character of Puffs. Geeky and paunchy, Wayne has to come to terms with his own failures in magic school in order to find out where the real power is: in friendship.
Know Your Potter
If the Potter fans in your life have devoured the entire Hogwarts feast in book or movie form and know the difference between a house elf and a hurling hex, you are ready for Puffs (you can get away without having seen The Cursed Child).
If you can’t remember where Sirius fits in or if Slytherin’s a character or not, you might be better off booking the Gazillion Bubble Show on Stage 2 on the floor above.
The belly laughs come when the Potter story we already know surfaces in the lives of Wayne and his friends, although kids will love some of the physical and visual comedy in the form of spells that don’t work and Mr. Voldy’s mishaps with his megaphone.
Quick Fire Jokes and Costume Changes
With Harry’s triumvirate reduced to a mop and a wig, Wayne and his closest friends — a goth and a math nerd — are given the chance to shine and they nicely mirror the famous trio.
A series of lightning quick on and off-stage costume changes enable the 11 cast members to play the full range of students, teachers, beasts, ghosts and baddies from JK Rowling’s imagination and with a fast paced wit, bring to life seven years of being an underdog Puff while the overachievers win the prizes. Wayne and his team find themselves battling their own demons and, in sticking up for one another, learn some life lessons of their own.
True to the Last
Towards the end, the play teeters comically into a place that threatens to rewrite the original story, but the creators know their Potter audience too well, and while the show spins off the Hogwart’s world, it doesn’t offer an alternative ending. Wayne ends up back where he belongs, firmly in Harry’s shadow, but all the more powerful for discovering love is the greatest magic of all. (Awww.)
Need to Know
The show is an hour and 45 minutes without an intermission and does contain some strobe lighting, darkness, and dry ice effects, but it’s all about getting the laughs so there’s always some humor juxtaposed with anything eerie. (And if you know your Potter, you’ll know where the plot is headed.)
New World Stages is made up of five theatres and Puffs plays in an intimate setting on Stage 5. You can take drinks into the auditorium and the lounge is set up with Hogwarts style mirror frames for some pre-show photo ops.
Have you seen Puffs: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
all photos courtesy of Hunter Canning