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Filament's 'THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW:' Let Them Tell You a Story

Filament Theatre Ensemble picked the perfect month, performance space, & design team to present their new folk music adaptation of Washington Irving's THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW.  From the moment you step into the Viaduct Theatre's performance space, you are surrounded by an eerie sense of chilly watchfulness.  Cast members in Mieka van der Ploegg's well-crafted period costumes wander around the house, while fog fills the large, black theatre space.  It's ok, though; while some spooky plays thrive on using audience participation to put play-goers on edge, SLEEPY HOLLOW's cast remains calm yet mysterious, even offering one-on-one ghost stories to early arrivals before curtain.

It's an evening full of stories.

THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW, which played last year at the Chicago Theatre Building, is reenacted by a multi-tasking cast of 9 superbly dedicated performers.  Tyler Beattie's effective musical mixes folksy lore, rock riffs, and melodic harmonies to elevate the mysterious tale of Ichabod Crane into an entertaining hour of theatre.  Don Denton's Ichabod, the bookwormish new man in town, is sweetly sung in a startling high tenor, while Mary Spearen's Katrina Van Tassel rocks out like a lost SPRING AWAKENING cast member, substituting an electric guitar with an acoustic mandolin.  The ensemble plays the entire score while singing the show's 15 numbers, similar to John Doyle's recent COMPANY revival.  Yet, unlike the sleek COMPANY and more like his gritty SWEENEY TODD, SLEEPY HOLLOW offers a rougher, edgier, music hall sound.  Beattie's score if quite catchy, with melodic refrains in the show's title number, as well as hauntingly lush choral work, heard in the show's strongest number, "Autumn."  While each performer sings well, a true vocal standout is guitarist Andrew Mueller, who could harmonize with a drowning cat and still manage to make it sound beautiful.  Kudos to Beattie and cast for tackling such a mood-setting score.

Omen Sade's minimalist and imaginative planked attic set transforms the cavernous Viaduct Theatre into varied locations in and around Tarrytown, NY.  And with the aide of Aaron Weissman's ambient lighting design, the ominous flood of light through actual tree branches cover the audience, as if we are sitting outside under an eerie full moon.

The one off putting issue with SLEEPY HOLLOW comes from its story-telling frame work.  There are at least three musical numbers which detour Ichabod's story to share Tarrytown lore.  Detours which slow the evening from its otherwise compelling rails.  Side stories aside, Filament Theatre Ensemble's THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW delivers a thrilling and stylized finale after an enjoyable evening of Halloween-time fun. (Bring a blankee, because whether it was ambiance-driven or not, the Viaduct Theatre was very cool the night I attended)  They may be a newer theatre company in Chicago, but their production values rival many others who have been around for years...and any new musical with washtub bass orchestrations deserves strong mention.

THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW runs through November 9th at the Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. For tickets, call 773-296-6024 or visit

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From This Author William Panek