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 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, 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. Gonzalez 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. 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 Kyrie 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 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 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.
Lifeline theatre presents “Bunnicula” through November 25 at 6912 N. Glenwood Avenue, Chicago. More information and tickets are available here.