BWW Reviews: Imagination Stage's WILEY AND THE HAIRY MAN Conjures Up a Wonderful Family Show
If you were a child who was afraid of the dark, what was under your bed, or even the ceiling fan that swirled above you, you have already found a part of Wiley, the central character of Imagination Stage's WILEY AND THE HAIRY MAN in your own life experiences. And if you have children facing these fears, then this is the next show you should see.
WILEY AND THE HAIR MAN, written by SUSAN ZEDER, is set somewhere in the swamps of the Southwest County, a land of conjuring folk plagued by the big, scary Hairy Man (voiced and mainly performed by VAUGHN IRVING). Wiley (IAN ANTHONY COLEMAN) is terrified of the county trickster who haunts his nightmares, and tries to avoid going outside into the swamp, even with his trusty hound dog (RAFAEL SEBASTIAN) by his side to protect him. When he manages to fool the Hairy Man once, Wiley must look inside himself and listen to his mother (THERESA CUNNINGHAM) to go back, trick him two more times, and rid his family of the Hairy Man for good.
Imagination Stage clearly knows how to build an environment that will keep children entertained. SAMINA VIETH displays a playground-like swamp with ropes and nets, and Director KATHRYN CHASE BRYER continuously sends the actors out into the audience so that there is always something fun to see. The action swirls, and it's staged very well.
The Chorus actors double as props and set pieces, providing ambiance, humor, and tone to each scene. Each one plays a musical instrument, making the music of that show that much more organic. Designer KATIE TOUART provides detailed and unified costumes, aiding the fact that no actor ever really goes off stage.
Coleman leads a strong cast as Wiley, capturing the innocence of the character and remaining fluidly engaging for young viewers. Cunningham is a commanding, wonderful presence who makes every part of her role, even playing the drums in the background, look like fun. Sebastian is a hysterically accurate dog, and children watched him wherever he went. Irving's Hairy Man is booming and wicked. He maneuvers the tall, impressive puppet with the help of other actors, and gives a bunch of sticks and reeds an intimidating personality with the right amount of silly.
Judging from those around me, children really love this show. Perhaps it's the setting, an unknown type of world to kids in this area. When asked if they'd ever been to a swamp, some replied with "no" or "what's that?!" The show engages them, and many were happy to shout out hilarious responses when prompted: "there was something about rubber?!"
Even by the end, when children are usually trying to bolt up the aisles, all of the kids in the audience were dancing along to the closing music. That is an indication of a well planned children's production, and one with a theme that they can relate to: being afraid. At its heart, it is a great lesson, crafted with an inherent sense of fun, the simple wonders of folk tales, and good old mischief.
If you love a show with creative music, dynamic staging, and a story and cast that will keep your kids (dancing) in their seats, then hurry over to Imagination Stage. It's worth it, and it certainly isn't a trick.
WILEY AND THE HAIRY MAN runs through March 15th. The runtime is 90 minutes, and it is recommended for children ages 6 and older. For more information, visit the production page on the Imagination Stage website.