Katherine Martin & Neill Robertson in Bunnicula. Photo: StageOne
Based on the book by Deborah and James Howe
Adapted for the stage by Jon Klein
Lyrics by Jon Klein, music by Chris Jeffries
Directed by Cami Glauser
A review by Kate Barry
Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Kate Barry. All rights reserved.
Things were nice and easy for Harold and Chester. As pets of the Monroe family, they would spend their days eating shoes and reading books with great leisure. That is, until the arrival of a strange bunny with sharp fangs, glowing eyes, and fur that looks suspiciously similar to Dracula. A cat and dog are sent into a tail-spin in StageOne Family Theater’s Bunnicula. After a series of shenanigans, lessons are learned about friendship and how looks are always deceiving.
Chester, the cat, and Harold, the dog are a couple of buddies who live an ideal life as pets to a family of “fairly intelligent humans.” As these pets, Neill Robertson and Katherine Martin are terrific as the excitable dog and brainy feline. Robertson’s performance is literal yet playful as an energetic mutt while Martin’s Chester is bookish yet skittish as a strange new visitor causes panic within the home. Speaking directly to an audience comprised of very vocal and sometimes fidgety young patrons, they engage with great sincerity and plenty of enthusiasm to hold their attention.
Humor and heart run throughout this family-friendly musical comedy. There is plenty of slapstick, with pratfalls and bits of business to keep a young audience entertained, including a literally tossed salad bit that made for well-executed physical comedy. Food-based humor is a running gag throughout the play as moments involving sirloin steaks and vegetables drained of color provide some comedy for all ages. The musical numbers are cleverly choreographed with homage to BobFosse, ballet, tango, and vaudeville. The opening number “Nothing Like A Pet” is a delightful tribute to the lives of pet owners and their creature companions.
While this play is about characters getting scared of a mysterious bunny, Bunnicula is a highly relatable and easily digestible musical fable. The costumes and set are colorful with bold prints and patterns. Tony Milder and Tonilyn Hornung are relatable parents and give solid performances despite the somewhat corny humor. In this performance, Shelby Leonardo and Lila Shalenko (double cast with Westley Howe and Wynnifred Hulstine) shine as Toby and Pete, the loving and charismatic owners of Chester and Harold. Xavier Mikal provides great puppet work for the title role. The movements are slow, gentle, and mild with a few nose scratches thrown in to give a life-like sense of realism. While a smoke machine provides an element of mystery, the puppet design by Deva North shows how something very strange from one perspective is actually harmless and very delightful.
As a side note, I was fortunate to see Bunnicula during a Sensory Friendly performance. House lights were kept at half, patrons were free to move, leave, and re-enter if they so chose, and volunteers cued the audience with the lift of a glow stick when a loud or exciting scene was about to happen. While this is a way to make the show more accessible, it did not deter from StageOne’s lighthearted family-friendly musical romp. By the end of this fable, new friends are made, and the important lesson of not fearing what you don’t understand is learned in a very endearing way.
October 14, 21, 28 @ 11 am & 2 pm
StageOne Family Theatre
Kentucky Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202
Kate Barry has worked with many different companies around town since graduating in 08 from Bellarmine University. She’s worked with CenterStage, Kentucky Shakespeare Festival, Bunbury Theater, Louisville Repertory Company, Walden Theater, Finnigan Productions. She used to work in the box office at that little performing arts center on Main Street but now she helps save the planet. In 2012, her short play “PlayList” won festival favorite in the Finnigan Festival of Funky Fresh Fun. Her play “Catcher Released” won an honorable mention with the Kentucky Playwrites Workshop. She has written for LEO Weekly and TheatreLouisville.com as well. When she is not writing, she teaches yoga. Thanks for reading!