Readers of a certain generation who grew up with a bestselling children’s book series about a boy wizard know firsthand the impact that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has had—not just on themselves as lifelong fans, but also in the wider culture. Even people not belonging to that generation can attest to its world-reaching powers: from a hugely profitable eight-film franchise to the anticipation of a Broadway play adaptation at the end of this season. However, while many fans wait with bated breath for that production, coming off a successful West End run in London, there’s another play in town offering a different perspective on the books and their universe. It’s titled Puffs.
For the uninitiated few (seriously, where have you been?), Puffs refers to one of the four Houses in the books’ Wizarding School, also known as the Certain School of Magic and Magic. Incorporating new characters whose paths cross with the events featured in the Harry Potter books and films, Matt Cox’s takeoff follows them through the eyes of a very different boy wizard, Wayne Hopkins (Zac Moon), who discovers he is a wizard and is soon accepted into a Certain School of Magic and Magic and finds himself sorted into one of the school’s four houses, the titular Puffs.
Each student’s sorting is determined by an enchanted Wizard’s hat, and based upon that student’s innate abilities. The Braves are brave. The Smarts are smart. The Snakes are evil. The Puffs are loyal, but also the least distinguished of the Houses. In fact, so much so that their mantra is “Third or nothing!”
However, that is about to change. The play comically runs through all seven books’ sequence of events, as Wayne and his fellow housemates and soon-to-be lifelong besties Oliver Rivers (Langston Belton) and Megan Jones (Julie Ann Earls) attempt to bring honor to the name of Puff.
They tackle trolls in Year One; avoid monstrously deadly snakes in Year Two; fight creepy, soul-sucking wraiths in Year Three; gear up for their first interschool dance in Year Four; suffer teenage angst in Year Five; fall in love in Year Six; and, finally, fight in the Great Wizarding War to end all Wizarding Wars in their Seventh and last year—only to continually fall short behind a certain bespectacled boy and his friends.
Puffs offers a plethora of quick-witted references to everything within the fantasy universe that inspired it. From an evil wizard’s awkward hug of one of his minions, to the nearly pitch-perfect replication of a renowned potions professor’s vocal cadence, the play itself feels much like a live Where’s Waldo? for all literary nerds in the audience.
The effect is nothing short of delightful, thanks to the incredible chemistry of director Kristin McCarthy Parker’s entire cast, many of whom take on various roles, and their improvisational skills. One instance in particular, wherein actor Nick Carrillo, as the ultimate bro-jock Zach Smith, peps up his team with a full-on rant, leaves both cast and audience members in hysterics.
All in all, Puffs proves to be a winning combination of hilarity and heart. For anyone who loved the original adventures of the Wizarding World, this play hits the all the right points—ultimately finding its place as this writer’s own personal House Champion.
Puffs or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic is at New World Stages (340 West 50th St.). Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Monday, Friday and Saturday, and at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. Matinees are at 2 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, and are “family-friendly.” Tickets, which are on sale at Telecharge.com, are $67.