Stone Bridge High School
An ancient castle stands before you. Behind you, the plain and mundane dredges of England. As you step into the hallowed halls of your brand-new school, eager to immerse yourself in the ways of wizardry, you're greeted by… a talking hat? Which claims you're a loser, loner, and a... badger? It might seem odd, but don't be dismayed! Broad Run High School shows that being in last place isn't so bad after all when they work their magic in "Puffs."
"Puffs" premiered in 2015 as playwright Matt Cox's comedic tribute to the Harry Potter franchise, uplifting its yellow-clad heroes that were "never destined to save the world." Cox removed all trademarked properties and names and gave them clever substitutes to avoid copyright infringement while keeping the source material rich and intact. Hence, the overlooked "Puffs" house gives a fresh lens to Potter's seven years at a "certain school," which even the most unacquainted viewer could name.
"Puffs" follows a trio of misfits who try navigating school with their heads down but eventually make a splash when embracing their powerful differences. Sarah Jakubowski brought an inspiring whimsy to nerdy Wayne Hopkins, an unwitting transplant from New Mexico hoping to go down in history as a hero. As angsty outcast Megan Jones learned to love her Puff-personality, actor Rachael McNutt made powerful choices to keep Megan's core passion alive while molding her into the kind soul she always was. No group being complete without the brains of their operation, Tristan Fishel had Oliver Rivers journey from an Oxford-bound mathematical savant to a lion-hearted protector, all while keeping his protractor on standby. Fishel's comedic timing enriched the spirit of the trio and the production itself.
The energetic ensemble of "Puffs" kept the show mobilized with their endearing, synergized awkwardness true to the house's nature. The group boasted diverse personalities, such as Victoria Reinhardt as the effusively lively Leanne and Adam Tamrjan as the brainless-yet-bold J. Finch. Despite limited stage space, clear physicality ensured each actor was heard and seen. The production used the entire auditorium, dispersing actors and stage crew throughout the area to stir liveliness.
In the wizarding world, magic can have peculiar, unknowable sources. But at Broad Run, one wellspring of delight came straight from the charming technical design. Zoe Anderson and Morgan Cull's lighting illuminated set designer Sayaan Bashir's rotating castle towers and trapdoor centerpiece. They made special use of the four houses' key colors when called for, notable in the sorting ceremony for the "Braves," "Snakes," "Smarts," and, of course, the "Puffs." Floating candles meshed with flashing disco lights and well-timed blackouts, indicative of the show's sentimental-yet-silly nature. Erika Abrillo's props were carefully crafted and thrown with an amusing "bounce" when spellcasting called for it.
When enjoying The-Franchise-That-Must-Not-Be-Named, it's easy for the indicated heroes of the series to ensnare you. "Puffs" comes along to challenge that notion, proving that being unnamed in someone else's story doesn't mean you'll ever go unnoticed in your own. Heartwarming and brimming with wit, Broad Run High School's "Puffs" is one for the books- or seven!
Freedom High School
Candlesticks floated magically above the looming set; shimmering black robes wisped along with the cobblestone floors. With a spotlight entrance, the audience was whisked into the world of Braves, Snakes, Smarts, and… who? Broad Run took the story of the boy who lived and turned it completely on its head with their production of Puffs! A parody of that awfully familiar wizarding world, Puffs followed The Puffs, a certain school of magic's most forgotten and "worthless" house, as they went through their own coming of age story while the boy with that iconic lightning scar did, well, whatever main characters do!
Sarah Jakubowski (Wayne Hopkins) portrayed the optimistic outcast with an absurd amount of relatability and plenty of charm to boot! Although charms and spells weren't Wayne's forte, Jakubowski's honest portrayal sold The Puff's ultimate dream of making their mark, even if they weren't marked by a Dark Lord.
Alongside Jakubowski were Rachael McNutt (Megan Jones) and Tristan Fishel (Oliver Rivers). McNutt's role as the "wrongly placed" Puff gave her a strong base for her character but didn't limit her ability. McNutt balanced depressing backstories with laughable attempts at social interaction, owned her angst, and kept the audience spellbound with her layered and consistent attitude. Fishel lent himself to a silly, nerdy posture, and mathematically calculated quips! Despite Fishel's awkwardness and McNutt's inept hugging, their blundered attempts at romance weren't in need of a love potion, as their chemistry onstage had schoolmates swooning! Their friendship with the headstrong Jakubowski made them the perfect trio that kept the audience mystified, even without the help of magic spells!
As the celebrity of the Puff house, Nick Kaplan (Cedric) had the Puffs, and audience, adoring him. With his iconic entrance theme and confident attitude, Kaplan was cheered each moment he stepped on the stage, all the way until his untimely death. His presence wasn't missed, though, as Kaplan was reborn into the grandiose and dramatic Mr. Voldy, who burst from the stage floor, bare feet and all, in order to continue his over-the-top comedic performance, claiming the lives of characters and audience members with his killer comedy.
Although the Puff's motto was "Third or Nothing!" they truly deserved first place for their endearing characters, excellent comedy, and cohesive sense of community! Kiki Reinhardt (Leanne), Adam Tamrjan (J. Finch), and Hannah Scarlatoiu (Susie Bones) embodied their roles as loyal Puffs. With standout comedic moments and gags, the Puffs and school staff blended together as a tight-knit group and filled the stage with plenty of hilarity that left the entire audience in such hysterics you might've thought they were throwing up slugs!
What wizarding world is complete without the magic that makes it all feel unreal? Sayaan Bashir designed the vast castle set. Complete with spinning walls, hidden entryways, and a spooky bathtub, the set had plenty of tricks up its sleeve and created a home for the Puffs while also assisting the actors in their comedic entrances. Excluding the broomsticks, there sure were a lot of high-flying tricks in this production. Prop designer Erika Abrillo created plenty of cursed objects: Dragon eggs, magic books, and even flying birds, which developed into a well-coordinated running joke so goofy that audiences badgered for more. The combined effort of both teams transfigured the stage and teleported audiences to a world beyond belief.
Aside from being near the kitchens, the best thing about Broad Run's Puffs was their mastery of comedy, lively cast, and otherworldly technical elements that created a fantastical and familiar home away from home for all who saw themselves as "just a Puff."