Theatre Review: ‘Bunnicula’ at Theatre of Youth

Celebrating it’s 46th season, Theatre of Youth presents “Bunnicula,” a whimsical, only slightly frightening tale, of a rabbit with long fangs and a suspicious fear of garlic. Based on the children’s books by Deborah and James Howe, “Bunnicula” tells the story of the vampire rabbit of the same name, who wreaks havoc on the household vegetables, as well as the family cat. No plump, colorful vegetable is safe from Bunnicula’s thirst for juice, and Chester the cat is convinced that soon the rabbit’s appetite will turn into a hunger for blood.

. . .a lighthearted, easy to follow horror-comedy that is perfect for children. . .

Meet Harold the dog (Rich Kraemer) and Chester the cat (Annie Roaldi), pets of the Monroe family, who live a quiet and content life inside the safe four walls of their master’s home. One fateful day sees the family come home from the cinema, where they had been watching “Dracula,” with a new addition to the household that instantly causes Chester’s fur to stand on end.

The adorable bunny found at the cinema is not what he seems, for at night he grows fangs, shines his bright red eyes, and is able to escape his cage without any limitations to feed on the vegetables in the Monroe’s fridge, draining the juice from them and turning them white. The family, Mr. and Mrs. Monroe (John Profeta and Jenn Stafford, respectively) and their two children, Toby (Tyler Eisenmann) and Pete (Ayden Herreid) discover Bunnicula’s first victim the morning after his arrival: a white tomato. With some over-the-top acting that reminisces a Shakespeare play and dramatic lighting, the family leads the audience into thinking they may suspect something truly heinous is happening… but to a gag reveal that “Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing…” proceeding to come up with the most blissfully ignorant excuses as to why the tomato (and subsequent vegetables) are dried up and white.

The play proceeds with Chester the cat nearly losing his mind over attempting to convince both the humans and Harold the dog to understand that Bunnicula is a blood thirsty vampire, and their lives are in danger. With some superb acting by Roaldi, the cat jumps onto every conceivable surface with ease, paws at a suspicious white zucchini, and sits and speaks with a confident swagger that hilariously resembles how real cats behave. Harold, either by choice or because he just wants a new friend to play with, is on the fence with his kitty counterpart, wanting to believe that there’s nothing wrong with Bunnicula, insisting Chester reads too much. Kraemer also shines as Harold the dog, prancing around the stage excitedly or in fear, twitching his head at every sound, and generally reflecting what dogs do best, being loyal and silly.

Bunnicula himself is controlled by the talented Christine Cooke-Macvittie, who brings the puppet to life in how she moves him around the stage, turns his head cutely (or menacingly) and wiggles his ears, among other acts. Eisenmann and Herreid also impress as Toby and Pete, able to bounce off of their co-stars smoothly and effectively, and perhaps giving the best projection during the musical numbers.

“Bunnicula” really shines in its music (Chester Popiloand) and lighting (Todd Proffitt), matching a comical rendition of creepy organs blaring (like you’d hear in classic vampire flicks), with focused spotlights and flashes of lightning from the set’s tall, ominous windows.

“Bunnicula” is a lighthearted, easy to follow horror-comedy that is perfect for children on Halloween (I mean, October). It’s frightening Dracula inspiration is downplayed by the adorable pets and the silly humans who think they know better. There’s many laughs and thrills to be had, recommended for ages 6 and up.

Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 10 minute intermission.

“Bunnicula” runs until October 29, presented at Theatre of Youth. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘Bunnicula’ at Theatre of Youth

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Christine Cooke-MacVittie is the puppeteer who operates the Bunnicula puppet in the Theatre of Youth production.

It would probably be safe to say that the theatre, to most, is an acquired taste. A taste for attending live theatrical productions is one that is broadened with age. Most theatre-goers that attend shows regularly enjoy, and can appreciate, the work that is put into producing a production, and find the art form to be a valuable part of their leisure time. To those members of society who might not understand the art form of the performing arts, because they are. . .oh, very young, or. . .because they haven’t been exposed to the magic of it just yet, every opportunity must be granted to them, in order for the art form to sustain and carry on into the new generation. Luckily, Theatre of Youth Company, understands this and has made it their mission to aim entertainment at the children of the Buffalo community, with the goal of cultivating a brand new audience and to spark an interest in the performing arts.

Theatre of Youth, located in the historic Allentown neighborhood at the Allendale Theatre, kicks off their 2017-2018 season with the Halloween treat, “Bunnicula,” adapted by Jon Klein and based on the novel by Deborah and James Howe, which tells the story of the Monroe family, who on a stormy night, bring home a strange and interesting new pet rabbit. While the family loves their new found friend, the family Cat thinks there is something peculiar about this rabbit, especially when mysterious white vegetables begin appearing around the house. Is the Cat right? Is the rabbit a menace?

“We did the show twenty-years ago and it’s a favorite of ours,” says Meg Quinn, Artistic Director of Theatre of Youth, “it’s a very funny show and the kids really did enjoy it.”

Starring a Cat, a Dog, The Monroe Family, and a giant Rabbit, this spooky tale is sure to be just the treat for the upcoming Halloween season. “Ken Shaw has designed a wonderful gothic set that we have been ‘weirding’ up,” laughs Quinn,  “We also had a puppet created that had to be larger than life.”

The Bunnicula rabbit puppet was designed and built by local art teacher Adam Kreutinger, who’s puppets have been seen in the MusicalFare Theatre production of ’Avenue Q’, Aurora Players’ production of “Little Shop of Horrors” and the local family holiday favorite, “The Littlest Snowmonster,” which has played the Lancaster Opera House. Puppeteer Christine Cooke-MacVittie, operates the puppet throughout the show.

“Bunnicula” is a show that parents and educators will definitely find conversation starters in, especially in this day in age. “It’s a story about identity and making your own decisions,” says Quinn,  “In a playful way, the show tells the audience to think for themselves and to be acceptable of others.”

Theatre of Youth not only makes it their mission to perform shows aimed toward children, but they also try to give all children the chance to come visit their theatre. “TOY school shows allow students from all different areas of Buffalo, to come and join us for one day to see a show,” says Quinn, “They get to cross paths with other students and see that no matter where they come from, they are all alike.” Quinn also adds that they want children to feel at home at their theatre, and that they are continuing to find resources to bring new students to see their shows. “We are very deliberate in activating the imagination of children,” she says, “we want them to think that they could be up on stage, and we want them to exercise their imaginations and creative thinking skills.” Every TOY show ends with a talk-back between the actors and the audience.

Quinn says that with “Bunnicula”, “The message is great. Change can be difficult, but if we all adjust and adapt and settle down, we will always move forward.”

“Bunnicula” opens to the public on September 30, 2017 and is presented at Theatre Of Youth in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

Promotional Consideration Provided By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.