2:30 pm EDT, August 20, 2019

‘Puffs’ closes off-Broadway after charming audiences for 3+ years

By Irvin K

All good things come to an end, and on August 18, the NYC production of Puffs left their common room near the kitchens for good. We were there to report back on a night full of feelings — J-Finch approved!

To say that the closing night of Puffs was emotional would be as vast an understatement as one could make. Despite the #1 rule announced for the closing — “No being too sad” — it was a tear-drenched sendoff for a show that has meant a lot to many people.

For the second time in a week (after the PUF3S reading on Tuesday), the entire Puffs family gathered in one place to celebrate the show. The entire original cast was there, the creative team, and all of Puffs’ biggest fans. There was a lot of cosplay present (including this writer’s 20th Puffs cosplay), as seen below.

While the show has not truly been “90ish minutes” in quite some time, veering closer to two hours, the final performance was clocking close to a full three hours. When Wayne Hopkins (Zac Moon) made his entrance, there was thunderous applause that did not abate for quite some time. That set the tone for the night — all the remaining original cast got entrance applause, as did most of the show’s iconic lines. Many scenes that have no business being emotional, such as the Puffs’ introductions or the Puffs Trio becoming friends, took on a new profundity for the night.

For the most part, the show proceeded normally through the first half, give-or-take a feedback loop of whooping between audience and Narrator that seemed unlikely to end. One slight difference that was lovely: When the Puffs in Albus’s Army give each other high fives, they actually succeeded! And to ensure that the whole audience would not be sad forever, the Narrator passed a bucket of magic chocolate and a box of Puffs tissues through the audience.

But the show went off the rails (in the best possible way) when Zach Smith (Alex Haynes) made his entrance. The Zach Smith improvised bit is the stuff of legend at this point, and happily includes all the remaining original cast members on stage (the OAs, per Saturday’s Zach Smith). Everyone was wondering: What would be the final Zach Smith?

First, it turned out to be a very cleverly done highlight reel for past Zach Smiths. The OAs were made to stand in a line, and were asked questions about former Zach Smith bits — whoever answered it right got to take a step forward. The “steps” became their own separate bit, as the actors lunged, jumped, and slid every which way to get ahead in just one step.

But that was not all! Similar to PUF3S, the other Zach Smiths went on stage to do a final Zach Smith of their own. Nick Carrillo, the one that started it all, showed up as “Zach Smith on vacation” and made the OAs “audition” with a script for Lethal Weapon. Then the alternates and longest-serving swings got their chance — Mike Axelrod, Jake Keefe (“MBA Zach Smith”), and Kullan Edberg (“MBA Zach Smith’s fabulous wife, a lawyer for the ACLU”). Even the playwright, Matt Cox, came on to do a Zach Smith bit — he famously performed in the role once at the PIT, before Puffs had a stable of swings in the wings. In all, it was a solid half-hour of comedy, and a worthy end to a long-running unexpected highlight of Puffs.

In fact, the Puffs team has made the entire Zach Smith scene available to watch online, so we can relive the glory of Zach Smith forever.

Amazingly, the show resumed after Zach Smith as if it were a perfectly normal bit of improv. The audience was treated to another very long and very funny bit in Mr. Voldy’s speech preceding the Battle of Hogwarts. Instead of musing about pilates or his shoeless state, Mr. Voldy (Keith Rubin) treated us to an in-depth recap and analysis of Free Willy 3. This worked so well on so many levels: First, as a reflection of Wayne’s own emotional journey with Free Willy. Second, as a surprisingly relevant parallel to Mr. Voldy’s own life — the takeaway is that if Mr. Voldy was just given a few Puff hugs, maybe it would have all turned out differently.

But in the home stretch of the show, which is a heart-wrenching bit of theater on any given day, all of our hearts were just stomped on. From Leanne’s speech before the Battle, to the Puffs’ deaths, culminating in A White Room scene where there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. “As for your story? I think it was pretty cool.” A theater full of hardcore Puffs fans would agree. By the time the Narrator gave his concluding speech — “Maybe that’s a Puff.” — you could have heard a pin drop as 200 people took in the meaning of the words we knew by heart, but which never fail to make an impact.

The final curtain call featured speeches from producer David Carpenter, director Kristin McCarthy Parker, and playwright Matt Cox. They thanked anyone and everyone who helped get this little show that could to a thousand performances. The backstage crew was brought onto the stage for bows, and all the swings sitting in the audience stood for a well-deserved round of applause. And the fact that Puffs would live on, in productions all over the country thanks to licensing, was celebrated.

Afterwards, the night was given over to signing things, taking photos, and giving gifts. Many of the hardcore fans made gifts for the Puffs, from chocolate frog cards, to books full of messages from fans. The Puffs, in turn, presented some of their biggest supporters with t-shirts from “Puffs Class of ’98.” The cast and crew, past and present, got to walk off with a prop or two — it was fun seeing who got what.

It was a very bittersweet night, the ending of something beloved, yet a celebration of a very unexpected triumph. The sheer amount of love at New World Stages’ Stage 5 was a rare and beautiful thing — on stage, in the audience, and flowing between the two. It was one of the most emotional nights of theater we’ve ever seen, and one that will be remembered for a long time.

Here at Hypable, it has been my pleasure and my privilege to report on Puffs, from the second show of a planned five, to the last show three and a half years later. We will keep you posted on the Puffs team’s next projects. Third or nothing!

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