Monday, May 28, 2018

Review of "Puffs"

Puffs, the Off-Broadway parody of the Harry Potter canon, is often quite funny and bewitching.  While entertaining in its own right, it is an excellent diversion for:
1.    Harry Potter fans that can’t afford tickets to The Curse of the Starving Child.
2.    Harry Potter fans that can’t wait until Spring 2019 for tickets to The Curse of the Starving Child.
3.    Harry Potter fans that just can’t get enough of the boy who lived.

The play condenses all seven Harry Potter novels into an energetic, amusing 100 intermission-less minutes.  The focus is not on the young wizard, even though he periodically pops up during the show.  Instead, there is Wayne, a hapless loser who arrives at a “Certain School of Magic and Magic” and is sorted into the Puffs, the house full of perpetual failures and disappointments.  He, along, with newfound friends Oliver and Megan, and under the guidance of the charismatic and heroic Cedric Diggerly, persevere to prove their powerful potential and battle the dark forces surrounding them.

Playwright Matt Cox has created a rollicking adventure that overflows with goofiness and inspired hijinks.  He liberally mines the Potter books with staccato-like flourishes while at the same time inventing a wholly satisfying parallel story.  As with its Broadway brethren, Puffs is strictly for those Muggles that are familiar with the source material.  Other, unenlightened, audience members will feel as confused as if they were hexed by the Confundus charm.

The young, energetic performers play their roles with a restrained abandonment.  They seem to be having as much fun as those seated in the small, cozy Off-Broadway theater.  The entire troupe is superb.  Leading the cast is Zac Moon as Wayne.  He brings a slovenly appeal to the role.  He’s whiny and pathetic, an outsider trying to be part of the in-crowd, but he is a loveable lug that demonstrates grit and perseverance can lead to acceptance and success..sort of.  Jake Keefe, who stepped into the role of Oliver the night I attended, is a goofy sidekick and a certified nerd.  He, too, grows into a more confident, self-assured young wizard that even gets the girl.  Julie Ann Earls brings a touch of danger and bravado to the role of Megan, the daughter of a dark magic witch.  A Puff in spirit and designation, eventually she forges a lasting bond with her two male cohorts and finds friendship and acceptance.  James Fouhey seems to be having the most fun as the handsome and poised leader of the Puffs, Cedric.  He has a swashbuckling swagger and oversized personality that enlivens the production.

Director Kristin McCarthy Parker helms the shenanigans with a controlled chaos that is both invigorating and imaginative.  She brings a welcoming dash of farcial brio with slamming doors and characters popping in and out of here and there. 

Madeline Bundy does a splendiferous job, doing triple duty with sets, costumes, and props.  They are whimsical and ingenious and add an exuberant playfulness to the show.

Puffs, a magical treat of theatrical merriment and fantasy.

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