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FESTIVALS & EVENTS : That Kwazy Wabbit Is a Broadway Star

<i> Rick VanderKnyff is a free-lance writer who regularly contributes to The Times Orange County Edition. </i>

When Warner Bros. animators were working in the 1930s and ‘40s, they had no idea how persistently their work would endure--the long television life, the collector frenzy over original artwork from the cartoons, the cultlike devotion to such characters as Wile E. Coyote, Porky Pig and especially Bugs Bunny.

That’s the word from Chuck Jones, who with Friz Freleng directed most of the works from the studio’s golden age. “We were very much in love with what we did,” Jones says, but “we never had any idea our stuff would persist 50 years later.”

So how might Jones have responded had he been told that one day, thousands of people would pay upward of $30 to see his works on a big screen with the backing of a live 50-piece orchestra? “ ‘Ho ho, it is to laugh,’ as Daffy Duck might have said,” answers Jones, who is a longtime Newport Beach resident.

That is just what is happening with “Bugs Bunny on Broadway,” a touring production that stops at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles Friday before coming to the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa on Saturday. The two-hour revue features some of Bugs’ more classically inclined moments: Bugs tossing a salad on Elmer Fudd’s head in “The Rabbit of Seville,” Elmer (as a helmeted Siegfried) sustaining a note that brings the Hollywood Bowl crashing down around him in “What’s Opera, Doc?”

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The project is the brainchild of George Daugherty, a conductor of orchestras for touring ballet companies (including the American Ballet Theatre) who also owns a music production company in Los Angeles, Industrial F/X. Daugherty is a lifelong fan of Warner Bros. animation who, as a musician, developed a special affinity for the role music plays in the works.

“I realize what genius went into it,” Daugherty says. Music directors Milt Franklyn and Carl Stalling created an intricate weave that combined original music with variations on popular tunes and classical works by composers such as Rossini, Strauss, Wagner and Tchaikovsky.

Daugherty especially liked the classically inspired works. “For me, it was Elmer and Bugs cranking themselves up in the barber chairs” (in “The Rabbit of Seville”), says Daugherty, picking a favorite moment. “I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be incredible if Bugs could perform these incredible spoofs in a theater with a live orchestra?’ ”

He called Warner Bros. with the idea, and folks there shared his enthusiasm for the project. After several months of often arduous technical preparation, the revue was given a one-night tryout last summer in San Diego. That was a success, leading to a run on Broadway earlier this year that sold well enough to be extended from two to three weeks, and a five-week national tour winding up at the Pacific.

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“The way the audience responds to the show is like a rock ‘n’ roll concert,” says Daugherty, who adds that many fans get dressed up with bunny ears and other accessories.

Jones, who will be introduced on stage at the Pacific, caught the New York run of “Bugs Bunny on Broadway.” He calls the experience of seeing the works with a live orchestra “staggering,” and adds that he enjoys the fact that audiences are able to see the works on a large screen, as they were intended to be seen.

“Many people have never seen Bugs Bunny any bigger than a clothespin,” Jones says. “It really is quite an experience.”

What: “Bugs Bunny on Broadway.”

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When: Saturday, Aug. 17, 8 p.m.

Where: Pacific Amphitheatre, 100 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa.

Whereabouts: San Diego (405) Freeway to Fairview exit, then go south.

Wherewithal: $27.50-$30.25.

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Where to Call: (714) 740-2000.


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