In every story, there’s a hero. Puffs: Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic, is not about that hero. Instead, this Harry Potter alternate perspective narrative tells the story of Wayne, a less-than-average orphaned wizard boy, attending Hogwarts at the same time as Harry Potter. Like Harry, Wayne is swept away to attend A Certain School of Magic and Magic, but instead of excelling at classes, sports, and, well, just about everything, Wayne and his
Hufflepuff Puff friends are just trying to stay out of trouble, learn magic, and win the House Cup. Or come in second. OR, at the very least, come in third (which inspires the show’s mantra: Third or Nothing!).
The play is exceptionally clever, poking fun at many of the issues with Harry Potter, and particularly with the movies, that diehard fans often raise. For example: are we just going to pretend Dumbledore doesn’t drastically change appearance between years three and four? Yes? Okay, cool. Just checking. Also, we’re going to ditch uniforms and not really talk about it. And how about that fourth task? Because if you’re not one of the champions, watching the lake for an hour is really, really boring.
Puffs cheer Cedric on as he competes in The Wizard Tournament during Year Four: The Puffs and the Year They Mattered
What stands out most about this production is the very small cast’s ability to play multiple characters so convincingly. Fans will no doubt notice elements of some of their favorite Potter parodies fused together to create the Puff versions of characters like Snape (or, rather, “A Certain Potions Teacher,” played by Stephen Stout) who emerges as part Alan Rickman, part Potter Puppet Pals. McGonagall (known simply as McG) is played by Eleanor Philips, who adeptly channels her inner Maggie Smith, while also seamlessly transforming into years 1-3 Dumbledore. Harry, played by Madeleine Bundy (who also does an excellent Moaning Myrtle), is reminiscent of Malfoy’s character in original Harry Potter parody play, A Very Potter Musical. Liberties are taken with characters like Ernie MacMillan (referred to as Ernie Mac, also played by Stout) and Justin Finch-Fletchley (J. Finch, played by Nick Carrillo), which pay off big time by adding absurd humor and running jokes to an already absurd tale. Ron and Hermione are played by a mop and a wig, respectively, carried around by Harry.
From left to right: Ron (played by red mop), the narrator (played by A.J. Ditty), Harry (played by Madeleine Bundy), and Hermione (played by rope wig on a…thing.)
The central storyline of the play is invented, focusing on a trio that roughly parallels Harry, Ron, and Hermione. First, we have our central figure: Wayne (Zac Moon) who feels a call to greatness, but is limited by his lack of magical ability. Secondly, our Hermione, Oliver (Langston Belton) a “Mug” born wizard and is a math savant, who until learning he was a wizard was slighted to attend The Oxford Institute of Mathematics at age eleven. Despite his academic genius, he frustratingly finds himself in remedial magic classes. Finally, Megan (Julie Ann Earls) rounds out our trio as a Ron-like character. Megan is a witch who comes from a long line of Puffs, but wants nothing more than to be a
Slytherin Snake following in her Death Buddy mother’s footsteps. While the dynamics of the group serve to progress the storyline and bring us through seven years, I found myself wishing the story would hurry up a bit and get back to the scenes that have to do with canon. For me, the joy of the thing is in the nuanced jokes about the common experience we’ve all shared in reading Harry Potter, and little is gained by the added characters.
Despite its imperfections, there’s a lot to be said for the risks the play takes. It’s certainly not one for children, making jokes that would not have been age appropriate in Potter, to say the least. It also includes cultural references absent in Harry Potter (such as Nirvana, Instant Messenger, Free Willy, and other things that were just SO important in the 90s). Puffs does an excellent job contextualizing Harry Potter in a way the novels don’t, while still fully enveloping the audience in the magical world we love so much.
Puffs: Or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic is now showing at the Elektra Theatre, with dates running through January 1st. If you find yourself in New York City this holiday season, it’s certainly worth donning your Badger gear (even if you aren’t a Hufflepuff) and checking it out.
Puffs drinking An Adult Butter Beverage on their first trip into A Certain Magical Town. All photos by HUNTER CANNING.