Friday, October 31, 2008

Campy ‘Bunnicula’ not too scary for kids

Published in The News Tribune, October 31, 2008

It is a dark and stormy night. Haven’t you always longed to see a show that starts that way? The modern children’s classic “Bunnicula” starts just that way – in spirit if not in fact. It is not only a delightfully entertaining story for children, it is also a campy takeoff on every old horror movie ever made.

On Tacoma Children’s Musical Theater’s big stage at the Narrows Theatre, it will be just scary enough and funny enough to entertain children of all ages without upsetting the younger children. Or so say the play’s director, Maria Valenzuela, and actor Chris Serface. “It was hot reading for kids in high school and college, (and) my 8-year-old just read it,” Valenzuela said.

Serface, who was a young child when the first “Bunnicula” book came out, said all of his friends loved the books, even up through high school.

As for the play, Serface said it is “very cartoonesque, like an old horror movie.” It starts off a little scary, Serface said, but turns funny before it gets too scary for the little kids – “almost like a spoof.”

It’s the story of the Monroe family and their pets, Chester the cat (played by Nelwyn Brady) and Harold the dog (Mark Rake-Marona), who is also the narrator of the story. The family goes to the movies and finds a bunny there and brings him home. Soon all the vegetables in the house begin to turn white, and Chester the cat suspects it is because the bunny, whom they named Bunnicula after Dracula, is a vampire, and he’s sucking the juices out of all the veggies.

The play is told from the point of view of the dog and features adult actors as animals and teenage actors as children, which means all of the props have to be appropriate sizes. To get an idea of what that is like, remember Lily Tomlin as 5-year-old Edith Ann in her big chair on the old “Laugh In” television series.

The children are played by Kody Bringman, 19, and Alex Gallo, 16. Both are from Puyallup and both are up-and-coming actors.

Bringman plays 10-year-old Pete, the oldest Monroe child. Patrons of Tacoma Musical Playhouse will remember him from “Grease” and “Meet Me in St. Louis” and can look forward to seeing him again in TMP’s next mainstage production, “The Slipper and the Rose.”

Gallo plays the younger child, Toby. Gallo was seen in “Ragtime” and has been in all three of TMP’s productions of “A Christmas Carol.”

Other actors in this production include Serface as Mr. Monroe and Christine Riippi as Mrs. Monroe.

And, of course, Bunnicula, a 4-foot-tall puppet built by Douglas Paasch, the master puppeteer at the Seattle Children’s Theater, where the play premiered in 1997.

The music has been arranged especially for this performance by musical director Sarah Samuelson with help from Valenzuela and TMP musical director Jeff Stvrtecky. Since the script didn’t come with a full score, they had to create their own. Traditionally, this play has relied on recorded music, but Valenzuela said TMP is dedicated to doing live music, so this production will use two keyboards and percussion, and we’re promised many comical musical special effects.

Other effects sure to be delightful, such as some very inventive lighting, are the work of technical director Will Abrahamse.

Tonight there will be a special costume party with a full performance of the play and prizes for costumes and jack-o’-lanterns.

All-in-all, it sounds so entertaining I wish I was 10 years old again.

WHEN: 7 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday, Sunday and Nov. 8-9
WHERE: Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
TICKETS: $15 general, $13 seniors/students/military, $10 children; $10 groups of 10 or more; Halloween party, $13 for children 12 and younger, $15 all others
INFORMATION: 253-565-6867,

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