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'Bunnicula': The Ultimate Hare-Raising Musical


Bunnicula, the popular book series by James and Deborah Howe, is brought to the stage of the DR2 Theatre in Manhattan this spring in a new musical brimming with mystery, music, and wit. Both fans of the books and kids who are new to the story will find something to love in this show.

 

Bunnicula the musical in nycThe time is now, only dark, stormy, and foreboding (just the opening number, I swear!); the setting is Centerville (a town like umpteen other towns); the family is the Monroes: humans Dad, Mom, son Toby, daughter Debbie, and pets Chester (cat) and Harold (dog). But before the stage manager can cue a thunderclap or ominous organ chord, word starts to spread: This very typical household of six (OK not all that typical—the pets sing, dance, read, and emote) is about to become a household of seven! And one of the original six is having qualms as big as mutant furballs.

So it begins, Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Musical Mystery.

 

The Plot

The plot of the story gets underway when the Monroes return home from the Centerville Palace’s screening of the 1931 film classic Dracula with a shoebox found under Toby’s seat that contains a tiny rabbit perched on a pile of dirt and a note that appears to be written in Transylvanian and may or may not translate to “Take good care of my baby.” 

After some debate, the rabbit is named Bunnicula and (almost) unanimously adopted by the family. Chester’s feline antenna is up, and he starts to observe things about the fluffy newcomer that the rest of the family does not—like the way his little eyes flash red every so often and how he appears to have fangs in place of teeth. And then, of course, there’s the middle-of-the-night escapade—spelled out in horrifying detail by Chester—in which Bunnicula was caught in the refrigerator relieving an innocent carrot of its vital juices.

From here the questions come fast and furious: How could this small hand puppet of a bunny free himself from his cage? Why have all the vegetables in the house turned from Technicolor to white? And why does the black fur patch on Bunnicula’s back look suspiciously like a vampire’s cape?

Moreover, it doesn’t take long before another mystery is posed: Why is Bunnicula’s health failing? To the vet he goes, as does Chester who, being so intent on saving the oblivious Monroes from the evil rabbit, makes himself ill so he can keep an eye on Bunnicula as a fellow patient.

And here is where things get increasingly madcap, with characters turning into other characters (mostly animals), Harold putting his courage and dignity on the line to prove his faithfulness to, well, everyone, and the most thrilling moment of all: when the wrecking ball is poised to level the movie theater with—I won’t say who—inside.

 

Bunnicula the musical, theatreworks usaBehind the Scenes

Excitement, mystery, show-stopping musical numbers, and ingenious sets, costumes, and casting combine for a virtual guarantee that the kids in the audience will be riding the edges of their seats as they laugh themselves silly. Meanwhile, we grown-ups get to savor the comic melodramatic twists and smart in-jokes for which Tony-nominated playwright Charles Busch (The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife) is known.

“I’d never written for kids before—in fact, I didn’t read children’s lit when I was a kid,” Busch says. “I was obsessed with movies and TV. I read magazines like Photoplay and Screen. The closest I came to children’s literature were the Classics Illustrated comic books.” But once he read the first two Bunnicula books, he says he was sold. “I found them charming.”

If you are at all familiar with Busch’s work, you know he is one of the most prolific, imaginative, and daring writer/performers around and that the leading ladies in many of his scripts are inspired by such Tinseltown icons as Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Gloria Swanson, Barbara Stanwyck, and Rosalind Russell—actresses known for embodying dames, divas, and femme fatales. The types of roles he’s become famous for penning are those featured in works such as Red Scare on Sunset, Die, Mommie, Die!, Shanghai Moon, and The Lady in Question

Which is one reason his decision to bring Bunnicula to the stage was such a departure and, as he readily admits, a challenge. “I have little experience with children, and I’ve had terrible luck with musicals, so this wasn’t something I’d usually consider.”

It was director Carl Andress—with whom Busch has worked for 15 years (most recently on the Off-Broadway hit The Divine Sister)—who convinced him to take on the Theatreworks USA project. “My first attempt was slavishly literal with all the dialogue taken directly from the books,” he says going on to cite a workshop of his first draft for “a focus group of 20 little kids,” that was “a little terrifying.” Evidently the audience didn’t hold back on criticism.

And that’s where Bunnicula author James Howe stepped in. “He grabbed me and said ‘Be true to yourself,’” says Busch, who immediately went back to the drawing board and his comfort zone. “I thought of parodying old Hollywood horror movies and prison pictures, and getting into my own sense of humor,” albeit geared towards youngsters.

Busch even interjected a brilliant, spontaneous cross-dressing moment (involving Harold and some miscellaneous garbage) after Theatreworks USA’s artistic director Barbara Pasternack encouraged him. Adding drag was something he’d initially sidestepped, despite his background, because he felt is was probably inappropriate for children. “But when I asked friends about what their kids and grandkids think is funny, drag was definitely right up there—and they love it.”



Suffice it to say the reaction to the second workshop was the polar opposite of the first. “It was all hats in the air,” Busch says, with Howe stating how much he loved the way their “two voices mingled together.”

Three wildly successful tours later and a fabulously successful Off-Broadway premier sealed the deal. This is one hilarious kids’ musical paying pop and retro homage to this day and age of all things vampire.

Heading to DR2 Theatre before Bunnicula ends its run on April 14: a must. Watching your kids dissolve in uncontrolled laughter during the show: priceless.

 

The Fabulous People Behind Bunnicula

The totally wonderful cast of soon-to-be stars:

Chester……………………………………………………Prescott Seymour

Debbie……………………………………………………Ashley Campana

Harold……………………………………………………Robert Anthony Jones

Mr. Monroe……………………………………………………Abe Goldfarb

Mrs. Monroe……………………………………………………Erin Maguire

Toby……………………………………………………John Garry

                 

Creative folk who make the show awesome on many, many levels:

Sam Davis……………………………………………………Music

Mark Waldrop……………………………………………………Lyrics

Charles Busch……………………………………………………Book

Rob Odorisio……………………………………………………Scenic Design

Gregory Gale……………………………………………………Costume Design

Connor Gallagher……………………………………………………Choreography

Carl Andress……………………………………………………Director

James & Deborah Howe……………………………………………………Authors/Creators of the Bunnicula Books

 

The Details

What: Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Musical Mystery

Where: DR2 Theatre, 103 E. 15th St. (Union Square)

When: Feb. 9 - April 14: Friday at 5pm; Saturday-Sunday at 11am, 1pm, and 4pm. Note: Beginning March 8, there will also be 7pm performances every Friday and Saturday evening.

Tickets: $45. Call 212-239-6200 or go to telecharge.com.

Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission

Ages: Perfect for ages 5-12; children younger than 4 are not permitted in the theater.

Must Do: Post-show meet-the-cast photo op in the lobby

More Info: theatreworksusa.org

Also Worth Noting: Teachers of second through sixth grades can download a study guide at theatreworksusa.org.

The DR2 Theatre offers kids’ birthday parties; call 646-747-7400 to arrange.

• Party in your own private room
• Group rate on tickets to the show
• Upon special request, cast will sing “Happy Birthday” to the birthday child in the lobby after the performance
• Birthday child will receive a show poster signed by the cast

 

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Griffin Miller, Theatre Editor

Author: City Guide Theatre Editor Griffin Miller moved to New York to pursue an acting/writing career in the 1980s after graduating magna cum laude from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Since then, she has written for The New York Times, For the Bride, Hotels, and a number of other publications, mostly in the areas of travel and performance arts. She currently is the theatre editor for all NYMetroParents publications. An active member of The New York Travel Writers Association, she is also a playwright and award-winning collage artist. In addition, she sits on the board of The Lewis Carroll Society of North America. Griffin is married to Richard Sandomir, a reporter for The New York Times. See More

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