Northern Michigan University will present the comedy Puffs Feb. 22-24 and Feb. 29-March 2. The play parodies the book and movie series about “a certain boy who attended a certain school of wizardry and conquered evil,” but from the perspective of the students who sat next to him in class.
The Puffs, a group of well-meaning, loyal outsiders with a thing for badgers, face their own challenges and adventures at the school. Their hilarious, heartfelt journey takes the classic story to new places and reimagines what a boy wizard hero can be.
Director Jimmy Ludwig says those who devoured the books and films this unauthorized parody is based on will enjoy an abundance of inside jokes. But he added that the production offers plenty of entertainment value to those unfamiliar with the series as well.
“At its very core, it's a door-slamming farce that an improv comedy troupe in New York City put together as a one-off event,” said Ludwig, who saw the show off-Broadway. “They put a smaller version of it up and invited an audience to come and it was an explosive hit. So they just kept fleshing it out more and more and then it became this full-blown production. They didn't have room in their space so they transferred to an off-Broadway theater that's right in Midtown. Puffs has been running there ever since and even managed to recoup its initial investment, which is very rare for a non-musical, off-Broadway production with no big-name stars.”
The main character, Wayne Hopkins, is a nerdy boy from New Mexico who discovers he's a wizard from England and goes to a school where he spends his years making friends and learning magic. The Puffs are lovable and relatable as they contend with common adolescent issues.
“They represent all the people who've felt a little outside the cool kids club, or who always got picked last for the team,” Ludwig said. “It doesn't make them any less wonderful and legitimate. But their experiences resonate with people who've been there. Every single human on Earth has at some point or another felt like they don't belong or experienced a case of imposter syndrome when they second-guess their skills and accomplishments. It's okay to feel this way, so that's a great message that comes from this play. And you can be a hero in spite of feeling like you're an imposter or not good enough.”
Puffs will be performed in a more intimate venue, the Panowski Black Box Theatre, allowing audience members to sit in close proximity to the cast members moving about the stage.
“There are 11 cast members in this production and we have seven understudies and covers,” he added. “That's something we're trying to do a lot more here: make sure we have what we call deep coverage on everything just because you have to be prepared if someone's out of commission for a week with COVID or an injury or something else. And in my experiences on Broadway, everything was always double covered in case two people filling a role were out. Our students are learning a valuable skill to be able to track the dialogue and blocking for more than one role at a time.”
Theatre & Dance is also offering a themed three-course feast with décor and entertainment at NMU's North Fork Teaching Kitchen before the Feb. 24 show for an additional cost. Limited seating is available.
Because of adult language and themes, Puffs is intended for mature audiences. Tickets are: $20 for the general public; $15 for NMU faculty/staff, military and seniors; $13 for students under 18; and $5 for NMU students with ID. They can be purchased at nmu.universitytickets.com.