Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Puffs - Magical Fun on Stage

This past week for my column in The Villager, I wrote a review/promo for the fall play at my high school. Our fine arts program is quite exceptional, and I enjoyed the play, as well as a chance to do a bit of local arts spotlight and critique. After attending the dress rehearsal on a Monday night, I crafted a little write-up of the play and the school's production. "Puffs, or a Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic" is a wonderfully entertaining parody of one of the most significant book series in publishing history. If you get a chance to see a local production, I'd recommend checking it out.

The Boy-Who-Lived is mostly a side character, and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named isn’t much of a threat at all. But the magical world created by J.K. Rowling twenty years ago is unmistakable, not to mention a laugh riot, on the stage at Cherry Creek High School this weekend. Creek theater kicks off their season with a performance of Puffs, Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic.

The show, which parodies the tale of a well-known boy wizard, is structured as sketch comedy, with endless transitions and few scenes lasting more than two minutes. The result is a non-stop freight train of sarcastic quips and comments. Those unfamiliar with J.K. Rowling’s magical stories will certainly miss some of the best fun in the puns and wordplay, but there’s plenty to enjoy for even the most inexperienced Potterverse fans. Currently one of the most produced plays in the country, Puffs is a hot commodity in theater, and each acting troupe puts its own spin on a familiar tale. Clearly, the kids at Cherry Creek are doing some cutting edge theater work.

While the script is obviously a parody piece, writer Matt Cox describes it as an exploration of the non-traditional hero. The story follows the struggles of an orphaned young wizard named Wayne whose parents perished in a regrettable chocolate frog incident. Arriving at school, he is sorted into one of the less glamorous houses, the Puffs. They are the lovable losers who fail spectacularly, always trying to convince enemies they are “not a threat.” In school competitions, Puffs are simply aiming to not finish last. Yet, while Puffs may be third place in the standings, by the end of the show they will be number one in your hearts. For this show is not about being a hero as much as it is being the hero of your own story.

The show definitely has the feel of a teen comedy with budding relationships linking a silly but sweet story of friendship amidst the absurd drama of high school, a key element which made the works of J.K Rowling so appealing. Fans of Saturday Night Live and John Hughes movies can both enjoy the show, as it spoofs both fantasy literature and the drama of the teenage years. The humor is definitely for more mature audiences, with jokes and exaggerated moments of snogging, lots of absurdly dramatic screaming, flying teddy bears crashing around the stage, and a high school party fueled by indulgence in butterbeer.

As the show spoofs a beloved story while paying homage to classic teen comedy, you can’t look away too long, or you might miss the joke. Fortunately, a nameless but wise and wisecracking narrator guides the audience through the seven years and whimsical fun of Puffs. Each year at school is introduced with a sardonic twist on the original plot, as the trio at the center of the story explore the role of sidekicks who share “the desire of the onlooker’s heart.” Yet just when the show gets sentimental, with characters writing letters home to a sappy 80s soundtrack, slapstick physical comedy arrives with the quick flick of a wand, or even a lightsaber. Fans of the Potter books will also appreciate some not-so-subtle digs at the movies.

Following a pandemic-limited year, Creek’s thespians deemed 2021-22 “Our Comeback Season,” and after a string of more serious dramatic productions, theater teacher and director Alex Burkhart noted “it’s time to laugh.” He hopes the audience will appreciate the challenge and the magic of ensemble work, as actors play off each other with character switches and physical comedy. The script presents a real challenge for the actors, with a script demanding lines seem effortless to hit their mark. In fact, this show was designed for and first produced in small comedy improv clubs.

The Fine Arts program at Cherry Creek has many talented thespians with a skilled technical crew, and the show is an impressive achievement for a high school to pull off. It's tough to believe this production is put on entirely by teenagers with a cast and crew that is precisely the age of the characters they bring to life. Puffs is great fun but also rather quick-paced, and you may want to see it again to catch all the jokes you missed the first time. Tickets are available for purchase online simply by going to the Cherry Creek High School website.

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