Review: Bunnicula at Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s Fun Company

TheatreBloom rating:

There’s nothing like a pet in the house! They keep you safe! They keep you warm! They drain your vegetables of all their color because they’re juice thirst vampires! Wait— what?!? Well, only that last bit if you accidentally sit on a rabbit in a movie theatre while seeing Dracula and decide to take it home. This may be exactly what happens to the Monroe family in the childhood classic story of Bunnicula, now adapted to the stage (from author’s Deborah and James Howe) by Jon Klein. Directed by Matt Lee, Bunnicula kicks off the 2016/2017 Fun Company season and is perfect for the autumn season what with vampire rabbits and mysterious white vegetables! Filled with song and dance (compliments of Musical Director Jennie Huntoon and Choreographer Bailey Sterling) the show has a little something for everyone, including the adults in the audience. Perfect for younger audiences, especially those reading Bunnicula in school, this play is perfect for theatergoers of all ages.

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The cartoonish set, crafted cleverly by Set Designer Cecelia Lee, is well-matched in the animated nature of the costumes, designed by Julie Herber. These sketched elements, witnessed particularly in the scenic artwork, help invite the audience into the imaginary reality where the show takes place. Herber’s use of shiny plastic wigs on the Monroe family creates a quirky yet entertaining aesthetic, which is echoed in their clothing as well. Adding to the appeasing aesthetic of the show, both Lighting Designer Chance Bender and Sound Designer Doug Grove lend their skilled hands at creating theatrical effects. Bender and Grove work together, often when the title character has to make a dashing escape from his cage, to enhance the theatrical magic known as suspension of disbelief.

Because the titular character never speaks, Director Matt Lee has envisioned the rabbit in the most creative fashion possible: as a puppet. A larger-than-life sized rabbit puppet, featuring lovely fangs, red eyes, and black fur across his back in the shape of a cape is featured throughout the performance compliments of Puppet Designer Kevin Cole. This lively moving prop is mastered by Puppeteer Andrew Zabetakis, and he hops along just fine throughout the production. Lee, as the show’s Director, keeps scenes moving swiftly, encourages the actors to stay enthusiastic, which helps tremendously in keeping the younger members of the audience fully engaged for the duration of the show.

Stage Adapter Bob Klein had done an exceptional job of translating a literary gem into a stage treasure, keeping the integrity of the story whilst paring it down to the essentials of an appropriate length to keep younger audiences entertained. The musical numbers, such as “Nothing Like a Pet”, “Beware of Bunnicula”, and “Poor Cat Rag” are penned with clever and hysterical lyrics that really invite young audience to delight in musical theatre as it wends its way through the iconic novel-turned-stage show.

Pete (Maxwell Lamb) and Toby (Lena Janes) Monroe are just like any pair of bickering brothers, fussing and fighting with one another at every opportunity that arises. Lamb and Janes play well off of each other and make for some comedic moments during their quarrels. Mrs. Monroe (Amanda Spellman) and Mr. Monroe (Cody Gilliam) have quite the knack for parenting, as it were. Both Spellman and Gilliam add that excessive level of phoniness required of parents in this particular situation, letting the campy melodramatic nature of their roles take over.

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Chester (Apple Reese) and Harold (Jack Evans) are where the show’s true comedy comes together. With Evans and Reese narrating the tale, told from the point of the household dog and cat respectively, the story gets well under way and with great excitement. Reese, as the surly and slightly sarcastic cat Chester, is truly the cat’s meow. The facial expressions she pulls, especially when being tormented and tortured with the kitty sweater, are hilarious. Evans takes the cake with his vocal affectation, which perfectly fits the character of Harold the dog. His attention span, penchant for bacon and other snacks, and overall demeanor is simply a hoot and he all but steals the show with his barking antics.

A splendid time will be had for all in attendance of Bunnicula. This is one clever children’s show that should not be missed!

Running Time: Approximately 70 minutes with no intermission

Bunnicula plays through October 8, 2016 at The Maryland Ensemble Theatre’s Fun Company in their Stage2 Performance Space in the Historic FSK Hotel building— 31 W. Patrick street in downtown historic Frederick, MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 694-4744 or purchase them online.


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