BWW Reviews: THE BOY DETECTIVE FAILS and THE HOLLOW at the Signature Theatre


Signature Theatre's 22nd season has begun by making musical theatre history. They are presenting two world premiere musicals in rotating repertory, in full production.  The eight week series includes The Hollow (book by Hunter Foster; music and lyrics by Matt Conner) and directed by Gardiner (Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer was to direct but had to withdraw since his Follies was going to Broadway); and The Boy Detective Fails (book by Joe Meno; music and lyrics by Adam Gwon), directed by Signature Theatre Artistic Associate Joe Calarco.

Each production will run in rotating repertory, with performances of both shows on every Saturday and Sunday to provide audience members the opportunity to both shows in one day.  This is in fact what I did. I would suggest seeing The Boy Detective in the afternoon (it runs two and a half hours) and Hollow at night (since it runs 90 minutes).  For dinner, try the wonderful Irish pub Samuel Beckett's which gives you a 20%  discount with tickets for both shows. Visit, or call703-379-0122.

I had seen both shows two summers ago when Signature offered a three week workshop with only a piano accompaniment.

What a difference having an orchestra makes. And once again, the Signature presents a wonderful six-piece pit under the baton of Gabriel Mangiante (also on the Piano), with Lee Lachman (Woodwinds), Andrea Vercoe (Violin), Aron Rider (Cello), Jacob Kidder (Keyboard), and Gary Tilman (Percussion).

I'll start with The Boy Detective Fails.  I had no knowledge of the book this is based on and I don't believe it's necessary. One should  just let your imagination run with it.  A review on the back cover of the book (for sale in the lobby) by the Library Journal describes the story as "post modern fiction with a head addressing such depressing issues as suicide, death, loneliness, failure, anomie, and guilt with compassion, humor and even whimsey."  Like the commercial for Prego spaghetti sauce says "It's all in there."

Leading the cast is the incredible Stephen Gregory Smith who initially plays Billy Argo as a boy detective with his friend Fenton (James Gardiner) and his sister Caroline (Margo Seibert). You fall in love with this trio in the first two  numbers, "Prologue" and especially "Billy Argo, Boy Detective".  Right away you are looking forward to more of composer Adam Gwon's beautiful melodic music.

After Billy's sister commits suicide, Billy spends 10 years in a mental institution (I immediately began thinking of Next to Normal).

Billy returns at the age of 30 to solve the mystery of his sister's death. The show really takes off when Billy meets Penny Maple (the delightful and talented Anika Larsen).  When she sings "As Long As You Are Here", she dancers with a coat rack and puts her arms through a blazer.  I was instantly reminded of a Carol Burnett sketch. This is one very talented actor. They sing two  beautiful duets "I Like" and "Little Mysteries" which I still hum.  That's an art that seems to have disappeared from the musical stage.

Thomas Adrian Simpson plays Professor Von Golum (like Professor Irwin Corey) and he and Smith also have two great duets, "Old Friends" and "No Such Thing".

The talented ensemble includes Evan Casey, Sherri L. Edelen, Tracey Lynn Olivera,Russell Sunday, and Harry Winter. I wish they had more to do.

The Hollow is based on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" takes place in Tarrytown, New York.  (WhatBWW Reviews: THE BOY DETECTIVE FAILS and THE HOLLOW at the Signature Theatre are the odds that I'd be attending a wedding in Tarrytown this week-end!)  I loved composer Matt Connor's Nevermore (based on the poem of Edgar Allen Poe) which was presented at Signature many years ago. He like Gwon, is a very talented composer.  The book is written by Hunter Foster. I thoroughly enjoyed his book of the musical The Summer of '42. But I found The Hollow uninspired. It seemed to lack any sort of humor but then again, you have to consider the subject matter. The actors seemed to be too stiff. 

Connor mentioned in an interview that this was much more of a story regarding Katrina Van Tassel (the marvelous Whitney Bashor) rather than school teacher Ichabod Crane (the capable Sam Ludwig).  Maybe with more work, the musical can be re-worked.  I did see potential there.

Kudos to the choreographer Karma Camp, set designer Derek McLane, lighting by Chris Lee, costume designer Kathleen Geldard, and sound designer Matt Rowe.

The musicals run until October 16. For tickets, call 703-820-9771.

The two composers have previous work you can view. 

Matt Connor's wonderful Nevermore will be at Artsource in Falls Church from Oct. 7 to Oct. 30. For tickets call 571-239-5288 or visit

Adam Gwon's terrific Ordinary Days (CD on sale at the theater) will have its Philadelphia premiere at the 11th Hour Theatre from Nov. 25 to December 18.  I saw the production in New York starring Hunter Foster and I highly recommend it. For tickets, call 267-987-9865 or visit

Playing in Signature's Ark is Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South. It runs until October 9.

Coming for four performances only is Stephen Sondheim's first musical Saturday Night October 29 and 30. What would a season at the Signature be without a Sondheim musical?

Coming November 21 until January 29 is the Tony winning musical Hairspray.

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Photo Credit: Scott Suchman




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