New musical brings Washington Irving’s Tarrytown to life.
There are only a few short weeks left until Halloween, and our favorite spooky legends are on the mind. Perhaps none so more than "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," Washington Irving's classic 1820 tale about the Headless Horseman who stalks the Hollow just outside Tarrytown, NY. In Sleepy Hollow: a Musical Thriller, Brenda Bell and Michael Sgouros have created a new musical production that provides another take on the story, bringing the town itself and its most famous residents to life as we learn how Ichabod Crane became the man we know from legend today.
In the Dutch American town of Tarrytown, Katrina Van Tassel has her eye on marriage, but her suitor of choice, Brom, doesn't want to settle down yet. When a young, educated schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane moves in just across the Hollow, she sees the opportunity to snare her love by roping Crane into her love games. For everyone else in the town, offended by the Yankee's isolated and calculating ways, the legend of the Hollow is a convenient way to tease the gullible man, hardly the horror we consider it to be today. But what happens when the Headless Horseman does come?
If it's a plot that sounds more like a romantic comedy than a horror tale, it does often feel that way during the show. The characters use largely modern speech and act with the freedom and energy of modern rom com heroines, with the exception of Ichabod Crane, whose elevated manner marks him instantly as an outsider. While the active role of the women is a refreshing change from the standard period drama, I believe the whole audience would have liked to see less personal drama and more real horror.
As an original musical, Sleepy Hollow does a very good job for itself. There is a wide variety of different songs, from traditional church hymns to cheerful anthems of women's independence, though the eerie songs are of course the most engaging. My favorite numbers were "Soaring in the Shadows," Anna's performance of Crane's experiences in the Hollow, and the ironic but deeply sad "Not in Love Song," which succeeds in the creators' wish to explain how Ichabod Crane became the bitter, angry man who meets the Horseman in the end.
The three-person orchestra features a cello and two percussionists, usually on xylophones to replace the traditional piano, a clever choice to create a unique sound. The trio of dancers provided a beautiful accompaniment to the songs, with more true dancing than is typically seen in small stage musicals.
While Sleepy Hollow poses Katrina and Ichabod Crane as the main characters in the tale, it is the smaller roles who shine in this piece, from Anna (Kayleigh Powell) as Katrina's worldly and contemplative best friend to Katrina's stalwart and confident mother Lady Van Tassel (Staci Morin). The relationship between the gruff and endlessly engaging Hans Van Ripper (Jonathan Rion Bethea) and the distant, naive Crane (Timothy Ryan Bartlett) is one of the highlights of the show, a collision between the old residents of the town and the young, educated transplants--what we would now call gentrification occurring all the way back in 1820.
The most innovative elements of Sleepy Hollow, however, are the visuals. Not only are the costumes historically accurate and immensely detailed, but all of the different locations in the piece are brought to life, not through sets, but via projections. In each scene transition, the image of the new locale flies in, fully visible in the dark, and then partially fades as the light comes up. It's a cool, eerie effect for images of the Hollow and the church, but rather odd in places not intended to be spooky. But while imperfect, and running the risk of the projected backdrops sometimes showing up on top of the actors, it is a clever solution to bringing an entire town to life.
For a show in which the Headless Horseman returns to take vengeance, the ending of this play is oddly cheerful. But one can suppose, when you live in Sleepy Hollow, life always goes on no matter who goes missing on a stroll after dark. Don't go into this musical expecting it to be about the Headless Horseman and the horror he inspires, but if you're interested in a clever new take on the classic Irving tale, Sleepy Hollow is certainly worth a visit.
Sleepy Hollow: a Musical Thriller plays at the Players Theatre through November 9. For more information, check out their website.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.