Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Jessica Kush: Watching a Friend Leap off the Page and Come Alive

Bunnicula is a mystery story written by James and Deborah Howe that tells the story of a rabbit whose nighttime snacking leads his fellow Monroe family pets to believe he has vampire-like powers. The book has been a children’s bestseller since 1979 and inspired James Howe to write several more sequels such as The Celery Stalks at Midnight and Howliday Inn.

Bunnicula’s popularity and off beat title character inspired playwright Jon Klein to create a stage production of the book. “I like characters that are sort of outsiders,” Klein states to the Washington Post when asked about his adaptation and comparing it to the 1948 film Abott and Costello Meets Frankenstein.  Despite having ample source material to work with, Klein adapted Bunnicula as a musical and enlisted composer Chris Jefferies to create the score for the lyrics he wrote. 

On his decision, Klein tells Gazette.Net “I wanted to be true to the spirit and tone of the book. And then I wanted to make sure that the music would be fun and representative.” The songs, which include an upbeat number about household pets and a pity party melody about an outcast Chester, certainly add fun and charm to the play. Klein’s adaptations seem to have been a good decision because since Bunnicula’s 1996 premiere at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, the musical has been produced more than 100 times and performed by several top theatres including Imagination Stage

However, Klein feels the success of the play lies with his ingeniousness to introduce Bunnicula as a puppet rather than an actor in a rabbit suit. During a production rehearsal he attended at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, Klein spoke to the Washington Post stating "The rabbit is the draw. ...I warned all the actors, if the rabbit does something, nobody is going to look at you.” The puppet helps build the mystery of the play and of Bunnicula who can appear cute or scary depending on the scene. While a pet, Bunnicula is not like Harold and Chester who are more human than animal-like in nature. Bunnicula never speaks and the audience never knows what is going on in his head or what he thinks. He is mysterious. The ending concludes with the audience never knowing for sure whether Bunnicula is a vampire or not. So until then, guard your vegetables!

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