Who knows what darkness lurks in the heart of your pet bunny? Childsplay sure does.
The Tempe-based theater company for young audiences is now staging a frothy, fun musical adaptation of “Bunnicula,” the popular 1979 children’s book about a vampire bunny that sneaks out of its cage late at night to feast on the juice of vegetables, draining the Monroe family’s crisper of all its bountiful colors, rendering the tomatoes and celery pale as ghosts.
When it comes to the veggie Grand Guignol, the family is, naturally, dumbfounded. But a snarky pet cat (Debra Stevens) and dog (Jon Gentry) are hip to the case, doing everything they can to get rid of the plant-sucking thumper — even if it means driving an uncooked steak into its heart. (The steak/stake malapropism is but one of several giddy howlers in the show.)
True to typical Childsplay form, most everything in this production is top-notch. Gentry, as a daft but loyal pooch, exhibits both a wild streak and his usual clockwork comic timing; he and Stevens — she especially when using charades to convince the family of its vampire rabbit — are in fine, sublimely silly form.
And both the set and costume design (credit Paul Sannerud and Rebecca Akins, respectively) are full of retro’50s cool, from their artful gray-and-white palette down to a father, played by D. Scott Withers, with a pipe perpetually perched in his mouth.
The vampire bunny in this show is a puppet manipulated by an actress shrouded in black, haunting the stage like an inadvertent agent of the Grim Reaper. That’s a bit too creepy for my tastes, though it does add to the Tim Burton-esque eccentricity that haunts “Bunnicula’s” edges. It helps make this show fun for adults as well as kiddos.
Like the ditties in Childsplay’s earlier “Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business,” the musical numbers in this show aren’t anything to write home about, but there are only five of them spanning this brisk, 90-minute show, so at least it’s not overkill.
Freaky-deeky puppetmasters and a few bland tunes aside, here’s a production that’s full of laughs and thankfully bereft of a blatant moral. Unless there’s a lesson in making sure your newly adopted pet wasn’t bred in Transylvania.
When: 2 and 5 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday, closing March 12
Where: Tempe Performing Arts Center, 132 E. Sixth St.
Cost: $22, $18 for students and seniors
Information: (480) 350-8119