Puffs: EW stage review
Between Harry Potter and the Cursed Child enchanting audiences in London and the first of a planned five(!) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movies arriving in theaters in less than a month, it’s safe to say the world is still spellbound by and hungry for more of J.K. Rowling’s magical universe.
So fans of Harry Potter, his friends (and enemies) and their adventures, then, will likely be charmed by Puffs, a new Off Broadway Potter parody/alternate story of sorts that’s packed with knowing winks to its source material and has a heart all its own.
The play is officially titled Puffs, or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic and is set at that institution of magical learning Potter fans know so well. There, we meet the Puffs — perhaps not the smartest, or bravest, or most skilled with magic (during dangerous situations, their plan of action is to form a huddle and chant, “We are not a threat! Please be our friend!”) — but a loyal, endearing bunch that you can’t help but root for. Among the newly-sorted Puffs is Wayne (Zac Moon), who hails from New Mexico and dreams of doing something heroic during his time at school. He forms his own version of the Harry/Ron/Hermione trio with Oliver (Langston Belton), a nerdy math prodigy who’s closer to a Squib when it comes to magic, and Megan (Julie Ann Earls), who wears goth makeup, has a mother in Azkaban, and resents the house she’s been sorted into until she warms up to her new friends.
As written by Matt Cox, Puffs zips through the highlights of all seven books (never mentioned by name, lest they summon an Unforgivable Copyright Infringement Curse), with the help of a narrator who pops in and out to help move the story along. It joyfully inserts the Puffs in all those school adventures, from classes and the Triwizard Tournament to the climactic final battle against You-Know-Who. Familiar cameos abound, including characters like Harry, Ron, Hermione, certain headmasters and potions teachers, and big-Puff-on-campus Cedric. All are played by various members of the cast’s ensemble (and at least one mop, used to stand in for that red-headed Weasley), but the focus is smartly kept on the magical misfits in the house that’s for everyone not sorted into the other three.
Puffs feels engineered specifically to delight Harry Potter diehards, and for the most part it succeeds. Not every joke lands (I rolled my eyes when they brought out bottles with butter labels on them — get it, it’s butterbeer, nudge nudge!), but it makes up for any misses with its high level of reverence for the Potter-verse. Like all good Hufflepuffs — er, Puffs — even if this venture is not the bravest or the smartest, its heart is firmly in the right place, and audiences will likely leave charmed. B+