Thunder rumbles, lightning flashes and eerie music fills the air at Theatre of Youth in the Allendale Theatre. Put it all together and it can only mean one thing: "Bunnicula" is stalking the building.
Well, actually, as any fan of the children's book of the same title knows, it is the celery that stalks. And despite the delicious Halloween-style theatrical effects, Bunnicula is a lot less ferocious than his glowing red eyes and growing green fangs would indicate.
In truth, he's kind of a funny bunny.
But that's not how Chester the cat sees it. Chester and Harold the dog are the real stars of the show, despite the title, and when the Monroes bring home the odd new rabbit, Chester (played with feline grace by Anne Roaldi) flies into a panic.
Taking a cue from the fact that the rabbit was found in a theater playing "Dracula," Chester – who has read up on the topic -- leaps with all four feet to the conclusion that Bunnicula is also a vampire.
Good-natured Harold, more literal and less literary, is also leery of the new arrival but, performed with wagging good humor by Rich Kraemer, he hesitates to take Chester's fears to heart. He's much more interested in cupcakes.
As for Bunnicula, well, apparently he's too young to be talking yet. As a clever puppet handled by Christine Cooke-MacVittie, the only hints to his feelings come from those shiny red eyes and fluorescent retractable fangs that slide out just long enough to give Chester the creeps.
And then there's the matter of the white zucchini …… (shudder).
The silliness of this imaginary cat-tastrophe plays out over about 90 minutes on a spook-tacular set designed by Kenneth Shaw. He has created a Monroe home of Gothic proportions, perfect for a haunting, with high peaked windows, a staircase with a landing as big as a balcony and a triceratops head mounted over the fireplace.
Jon Klein wrote the stage adaptation, staying faithful to the original book by Deborah and James Howe while rolling many of the comic lines into songs. The musical numbers are a mixed bag. Some of the jokes got lost when turned into lyrics, and sometimes the sound system made it hard to understand them, leading to a little fidgeting among the audience.
But all it took to regain their attention was for the lights to go out and Bunnicula to head back on the prowl.
The Monroe family members – supporting characters to the animals -- are played by John Profeta and Jenn Stafford as the parents and Tyler Eisenmann and Ayden Herreid as their young sons. Under the direction of Jeffrey Coyle, the humans all are suitably oblivious to the secret lives of their pets and quaintly incurious about the odd goings-on in their household.
That makes "Bunnicula" one of those stories in which kids in the audience know even more than the grown-ups, which always feels good. Kids who have read the books or seen TV shows inspired by them will plug into the action immediately, while first-timers may be inspired to pick up the book afterward. TOY bills the show as good for ages 6 and older. I think the older elementary kids will probably like it best. For kids who might have trouble sitting still for 90 minutes, the theater's sensory friendly performance -- which lets them move around during the show -- is Oct. 15.
3 stars (out of 4)
The popular children's book about a misunderstood rabbit who gives a cat conniptions comes to the stage with music and puppetry presented by Theatre of Youth at the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen St., through Oct. 29. Tickets are $15 to $28. Visit theatreofyouth.org.