Children’s theater is a tricky art; the play needs to engage children without making adults feel as if they just ate cotton candy, followed by a milkshake chaser.
To stick with the food analogy for a moment, a well-baked cookie is what the playwright, director and actors should strive for. And “Bunnicula: A Rabbit Tale of Musical Mystery” at DR2 Kids Theatre hits the spot.
Best for children in preschool through elementary school, this features the vampire bunny from the hit book series, which has been around since 1979 in picture board books and, for older readers, chapter books.
Bunnicula sucks the life out of vegetables. It is not too scary, even for the youngest audience, and Bunnicula is a puppet with glowing red eyes. The rest of the cast, however, is human, even the two actors who dominate the show, Chester the cat, and Harold the dog (Prescott Seymour and Robert Anthony Jones) are humans.
The animals — dog, cat and rabbit — live with the Monroes, a typical family: Mom is a triple Type-A lawyer and dad is a mellower professor (Erin Maguire and Abe Goldfarb). Their son Toby, a science nerd, and daughter, Debbie, a whiny teen, (John Garry, Ashley Campania) complete the family. All, especially Jones, give good performances, though Campana could learn to tone down her act a few notches.
The sets (Rob Odorisio), costumes (Gregory Gale) and score (Sam Davis, music, Mark Waldrop, lyrics) are truly fun. The songs are done in different styles such as marching band, a tango. Costumes include a nod to Carmen Miranda and that’s the dog’s outfit. Now any man dressed as a dog, going undercover in drag as Carmen, is just fun by definition.
Mom mandates the family have quality time together and they head to a theater to watch “Dracula” during a storm, where they find an abandoned bunny in a shoebox. With it, is a note written in “Transylvanian” (yes, we know, Romanian). None of this should be too believable since the dog reads the note. Only the dog and cat recognize each other is talking.
The cat, who reads in the litter box, is suspicious of Bunnicula from pretty early on, and of course is right. But the family finds, adopts and nurtures Bunnicula. Then the vegetables start getting sapped of their color and life is spooky — but just a little — with a vampire bunny running around. OK, as much as a puppet can run.
The play is just right in its Union Square theater, and clocks in at a tidy hour. It’s not Shakespeare but when you sign on for children’s theater, this is precisely what you should get.