From Chicago Theatre Review
Kid-Friendly Halloween Horror
October 23, 2018
By Colin Douglas
Ever since Irish author Bram Stoker penned his 1897 Gothic novel, Dracula, countless other vampire stories have been inspired by the book’s popularity. A few years ago, James and Deborah Howe jumped on the bandwagon, writing their own children’s horror novel about a vampire rabbit. It became so popular that Howe wrote three more sequels to the book: Howliday Inn, The Celery Stalks at Midnight and Nighty-Nightmare. Soon thereafter, due to popular demand, James Howe wrote several more books in the series.
The Monroes are a modern American family, with two children, Pete and Toby, and a cat and a dog. One dark, stormy night, while at a movie theater for a showing of “Dracula,” they find a black and white bunny running around the auditorium. They bring the rabbit home and name it Bunnicula. Chester, the family’s orange, literature-loving tabby cat, convinces Harold, their scruffy pup, that the new bunny rabbit is actually a vegetable-sucking vampire. Upon daily discovering white, juiceless vegetables lying around the house, Chester is convinced that the new family pet has diabolical plans for his masters, and that he must be stopped. Together Chester and Harold band together to stop Bunnicula from taking over the world.
Adapted by James Sie, with lyrics by Mr. Sie and an a cappella score by Doug Wood, this is one of Lifeline very best KidSeries’ presentations. Directed with fast pacing and a contemporary sensibility, by Anthony Kayer, it’s hilariously acted and terrifically sung by a gifted cast of five.
Nick Druzbanski makes his much-welcome debut on Glenwood Avenue as Harold. Remembered for his breakout roles in Drury Lane’s “Rock of Ages,” “Violet” at Griffin Theater and “High Fidelity” with Refuge Theater Project, Mr. Druzbanski also serves as the play’s narrator. He has a great singing voice and is funny, with a keen sense of timing. Matched by the incomparable Carisa Gonzalez as Chester, these two actors form an Abbot & Costello-like comedy team that’s unrivaled. Ms. Gonzalez also plays Toby, the youngest son, as well. Since it becomes a little confusing, the production would profit by casting an additional actor to play this minor role. Ms. Gonzalez is an excellent actress, whose talents have been enjoyed in “Carrie 2 the Rage,” at Underscore Theatre, as well as Bessie the Duck in Lifeline’s recent, delightful “Montauciel Takes Flight.” She creates a hilariously solid characterization and offers some magnificent vocal chops, in this role.
These two actors are ably supported by triple threats Kyria Anderson, as Mom; Chris Davis, as Dad; and Whitney Dottery as Petey. All three actors supply some gorgeous, easy-on-the-ear harmonies to this production, thanks to the guidance provided by musical director, Andres Enriquez. In addition to Anthony Kayer’s spirited direction that cuts right to the chase, Eric Backus’ wonderful sound design works well in tandem with Michelle Lilly’s translucent scenic creations and Becca Jeffords’ eerie lighting. Emily Swenson’s costumes also add just the right touch without becoming too much. And a special nod to Noah Ginex’s beautiful puppet designs; his fuzzy Bunnicula bunny seems to truly be alive.
Once again Lifeline Theatre brings unbridled humor and memorable original melodies to a beloved children’s classic. Breathing new life into this funny animal story, skillfully guided by Anthony Kayer, and made flesh-and-blood by a talented cast and artistic crew, this is a delightful way to share some kid-friendly Halloween horror with young children and their adult companions.
From Splash Magazines
A Spooky Story for All Ages
October 25, 2018
By Jessie Bond
At the library where I work, the children’s department bulletin board currently asks “What’s your favorite boook?” and is covered in white paper ghosts with kids’ favorite books written on them. Next to my name, you’ll find the seasonally appropriate choice Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe, the fun and slightly spooky story of a cat and dog who suspect that their family’s latest addition may be more sinister than he seems.
Bunnicula has been a favorite of mine for many years, and its many sequels and spin-off series, Bunnicula and Friends, are evidence of its popular among its target demographic. This children’s classic has been adapted into a play by James Sie and is being produced by Lifeline Theatre, just in time for Halloween.
The story opens with Harold, the family dog, introducing the audience to the family he lives with, which consists of a mother, father, two kids, Harold, and a paranoid book-loving cat named Chester (names changed to protect the identity of those involved, of course). The night in question, the family returns from a screening of Dracula with an accidental find: a sweet black-and-white bunny, in the form of a cuddly-looking puppet designed by Noah Ginex. But when the family’s vegetables start turning up white, Chester’s overactive imagination kicks into overdrive, and she begins investigating the rabbit with the reluctant help of Harold, who’s more interested in begging for bacon than vanquishing evil.
Sie’s script does a great job of condensing the story to a brief fifty-minute production without losing any of its essential elements, making it an excellent, kid-friendly retelling of the novel. In addition, the show is rife with all-ages humor; even in its most serious moments, the story is never so heavy it cannot be laughed at, but the jokes are tasteful and universal enough that both the kids and adults in the audience can enjoy them.
Nick Druzbanski is utterly charming as Harold, bringing a sweet earnestness and excellent sense of comedic timing to the role that captures the essence of the gentle narrator. And Carisa Gonzalez mimics the mannerisms of a cat magnificently, providing an uptight foil to Harold’s casual, relaxed nature. Another fun addition to the show is the music, written by Doug Wood and sung a capella by the actors. Although the cast is small, Wood is able to achieve some lovely harmonies on the simple, catchy melodies that drive the show. Sound design by Eric Backus captures well the eerie violin music and sometimes cartoonish sound effects that accompany Bunnicula’s antics.
Scenic design by Michelle Lilly is elegant and just a little spooky, clean and modernist while still reminiscent of a haunted forest. Excellent use is made of shadows on the walls, both for storytelling and aesthetic purposes.
Bunnicula is a timeless tale of a strange little bunny who creates a big fuss. It’s a story I keep recommending to kids in its book form, and it’s a story I now recommend to you in its play form.
“Bunnicula” is a Halloween treat for the whole family
October 25, 2018
By Kelly Romack MacBlane
As the mother of three boys, ages 4, 7 and 9, I have been exposed to a wide variety of children’s entertainment. Over the years, I have learned to appreciate the shows, movies, and performances that are able to both capture my children’s attention while also keeping me at least mildly engaged. Lifeline Theatre’s KidSeries production of Bunnicula went above and beyond.
Bunnicula is a new musical adaptation of the 1979 children’s novel by the same name written by Deborah and James Howe. James Sie, who is credited with the adaptation and lyrics, and Doug Wood, who created the music, did an excellent job of capturing the suspenseful yet kid-friendly spirit of the book. Bunnicula follows the story of the Monroe family who finds a bunny at a movie theater during a screening of Dracula. Not long after they bring the bunny home, strange things begin to happen- strangest of all being that the vegetables in the house are all turning white! The well-read cat in the family, Chester, suspects something is not quite right with their new housemate. Chester, along with the family dog, Harold, sets out to get to the bottom of the vegetable mystery and figure out who Bunnicula, the aptly named rabbit, really is.
The show seemed fitting for a crisp fall day, not long before Halloween. I took my 9-year-old son as my date in order to get a true perspective on how well the piece read with its targeted audience. By the end of the 45-minute production, we both were thoroughly entertained, both of us laughing out loud through most of the performance. The laughter began with the entrance of Harold, the family dog played by Nick Druzbanski. Like all of the characters in the show, Harold was outfitted in what I found to be quite tacky and humorous 1970’s fashion, with a fringe leather vest giving the idea of fur topped off by a sweatband with floppy ears. I couldn’t help but giggle. Harold narrates the show with the help of the highly intelligent cat Chester, played by Carisa Gonzalez, whose pointy ears and kitschy striped shirt along with her feline movements made her believably cat-like. The scenes with the two animals are the best- their banter and sarcastic wit keeping the adults in the audience laughing. However, judging by the squirmy nature of the younger boy sitting next to me, it may have been a little hard for him to follow at times. Luckily, the physical humor in the show, along with the anticipation of where Bunnicula, played by a very believable puppet, might appear or disappear, was able to draw the young audience members’ attention back in. In the end, my son and I decided the best age range for the show would be 5-9.
There were many other components of the show my son and I enjoyed. He loved the puppet bunny and how different actors would manipulate Bunnicula depending on the scene. He also spent much of the show trying to figure out how Bunnicula “got out of his cage,” in the scenes where Chester and Harold found the cage empty. We both enjoyed the set that incorporated the use of shadows behind the onstage scenes to create different motifs. For instance, during one song, a chorus of shadow alley cats sang along with the actors onstage. This was one of our favorite moments. As for the music, I appreciated the fact that is was completely acapella. Using onstage and offstage voices, I enjoyed the way the five actors of the show could create such a spooky atmosphere with their singing.
As my son and I broke down the show over a coffee and hot chocolate later in the day, he decided it deserved a green light. He only had two complaints. One, he felt the acting was…cheesy? Over the top? He struggled to describe it. I, on the other hand, thought Anthony Kayer’s direction was perfect for this show. We agreed to disagree. However, we both were wondering what happened to the second brother in the show. In the opening scene, there are two brothers that come home with the family and the new bunny. However, one of the brothers, Toby, is never seen in the show again…and mysteriously looks a lot like Chester. I wondered why even have Toby appear in the first place. My son questioned what happened to him and why he never came back. However, overall, we both agreed we would recommend this fun show to our friends.
If you do have the opportunity to see Bunnicula at the Lifeline Theater, I’d also recommend taking advantage of the Stories Come Alive session that runs at noon between the 11 am and 1 pm shows on Saturdays and Sundays. This is a one hour class of theater games for kids. The cost is $5 per child. The games are all related to the show and our instructor, Nate, did a great job of working to reach the diverse age group of kids in our class. (My son was the oldest. He and I decided this program is best suited for kids ages 4-8). There were 9 kids in our session, along with myself. None of the other parents attended; however, when I asked Nate if I could go, he said of course as long as I participated. Being a lover of theater games, this wasn’t a problem! Nate kept the class moving with about five games over the 55-minute session. For the most part, the children were all engaged and there was a lot of laughter. I was impressed with Nate’s ability to keep the kids focused and on track. I’m hoping to be able to bring my other sons back for a class in the future.
Overall, it was a wonderful afternoon. Bunnicula and Stories Come Alive at the Lifeline Theater are a great way to help your young ones get pulled in to the amazing world of theater.