Only a handful of comic books and comic strips have ever made the jump from newsprint to the dramatic stage. Superman, the gang from “Peanuts,” Little Orphan Annie and the “Doonesbury” crew have been featured in various theater productions, but that’s about it.
Starting this month, however, the cast of kooky characters from veteran comics creator Jill Thompson’s “Scary Godmother” books will come to life in a play in Thompson’s hometown of Chicago.
The show, which opens Sept. 21 at the Athenaeum Theatre, was co-written by Thompson and Chicago director Heath Corson. Corson’s Runamuck Productions is a not-for-profit theater company that adapts literature for the stage. “It’s so much fun,” Thompson told CBR News. “I can’t even explain how good of a time I’ve had.”
Thompson – who has worked in comics since her teen years as an artist and writer on books including “Wonder Woman,” “Sandman” and the recent “Little Endless Storybook” – created the “Scary Godmother” franchise in the mid-1990s. The title character is a cheerful, magical woman who’s part fairie godmother and part witch. She watches over a sweet little girl named Hannah Marie and has friends who include a vampire couple named Ruby and Max, a pre-teen vamp named Orson, a googly-eyed beastie named Bug-A-Boo and a lazy werewolf named Harry. So far they’ve appeared in four painted hardcovers, two softcover one-shots, a three-issue mini-series and a new six-issue mini-series that launched this summer. A “Scary Godmother” animated series also is in the works from Mainframe Entertainment.
Thompson was approached to help adapt “Scary Godmother” for the theater last year. After working on the script, she assisted with the costumes and set designs, too. Many of the Halloween doodads that will decorate the stage came from Thompson’s personal collection. “I am so thrilled to be this involved,” she says. “It’s so nice that my suggestions and my designs are coming to life.”
Casting the play was an especially nerve-wracking experience for Thompson. Watching actors interpret characters you’ve created can be difficult for a writer, especially in the case of the Scary Godmother herself, who Thompson based on her own likeness. “I’ve always been really excited about it, but the closer we got to casting the more nervous I was,” Thomspon says. “But I could not have found more perfect people. It’s going to be terrific.”
The play’s debut was deliberately timed to coincide with Halloween. After all, Scary Godmother’s favorite time of year comes when the leaves turn orange and carved jack-o’-lanterns are out on the porch. Thompson, whose love of all things Halloween is well known in comics circles, is encouraging children to wear their trick-or-treat costumes to the theater. “It’s like having a Halloween party without having kids (myself),” she said.
The one-hour, one-act play definitely is an all-ages extravaganza. Parents who enjoy reading the “Scary Godmother” books with their children should feel welcome, as should any comics fans who enjoy the books, Thompson says. “It’s funny for adults and appropriate for children,” she insists.
“Scary Godmother” is set to run every Friday, Saturday and Sunday between Sept. 21 and Oct. 28 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 Southport in Chicago. Friday performances are at 8 p.m., Saturday performances are at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sunday performances are at 4 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for all shows. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster outlets, www.ticketmaster.com and the Athenaeum Theatre box office. Tickets to special preview performances Sept. 14, 15 and 16 also are available. For more information, call Runamuck Productions at (773) 784-8100.