Bunnicula seems to be one of those books people either worship or have never heard of. I admit I fall into the second group. But whether or not you're a fan of Deborah and James Howe's 1979 comic kids' novel about a rabbit who may be a vampire, this new family musical is a real scream.
A lot of the credit goes to the original authors, who wrote a delightfully wacky story that is often laugh-out-loud funny. (I finally read it after seeing the show.) But the musical has an extra dose of camp thanks to Tony nominated playwright Charles Busch, who also happens to be a legendary drag queen. His sly one-liners and mature (yet G-rated) references keep grown-ups giggling while children warm to a tale of friendship between two pets, and get to see how one dog finally has his day.
Presented by Daryl Roth and the awesome TheatreWorks USA, Bunnicula! A Rabbit Tale of Musical Mystery isn't really about the title character, and it's not much of a mystery either. It's actually the story of Harold (Robert Anthony Jones), a goofy mutt and his pal Chester (Prescott Seymour), an excitable cat who loves reading old horror books. One night, their owners the Monroes return from a screening of Dracula with a bunny they found abandoned in the theater. Already jealous of the newbie, Chester catches him draining vegetables of their juice, determines the rabbit is a vampire and sets out to destroy him.
If it sounds silly, it is—and the cast has a great time sending up horror conventions and their stereotypical characters. Dad is an absent-minded professor; mom, a high-strung lawyer; junior, a science geek and the daughter, an over-scheduled tween who's constantly running off to harpsichord and other offbeat lessons. While Chester propels the plot, Jones' Harold has the big moments and is ultimately the hero. At times, he seems to be channeling the Cowardly Lion and he even gets a cross-dressing scene in "salad drag," a description that, like many of the punch lines, goes over most kids' heads, though there are still plenty of gags for them to understand and enjoy.
Devotees of the book will notice some changes, mostly minor (the Monroes have a boy and a girl instead of two sons, etc.) until the climax, which is completely different. I won't give too much away, suffice to say it gets Harold out onto the streets where he meets a pair of feral felines and croons the show's best number (the songs are by Sam Davis and Mark Waldrop).
Bunnicula doesn't pretend to be educational (unless you count explaining the various references to your kids, like who Jonathan Adler is). It's just an hour of good campy fun recommended for children ages 4 and up, though I think elementary-schoolers will like it best. Afterward, check out the books. There's a whole series and they're all narrated by Harold, who's one witty canine.
Bunnicula! A Rabbit Tale of Musical Mystery is playing through Sunday, April 14 at the DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street between Union Square East and Irving Place. Tickets are $45 but you can save $8 on select performances by using the Broadwaybox discount code.
All photos courtesy of Jeremy Daniel.