However wide awake they may have been before they entered that sleepy region, they are sure, in a little time, to inhale the witching influence of the air, and begin to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions. —Washington Irving
We were a lot like the people who enter into the fog of Terry Town as we walked into the Mountainside Theatre in Cherokee on Friday night for “The Sleepy Hollow Experience.”
The fog began to set the mood, along with the actors in black cloaks and beaked masks, who whisked us past the auditorium seats and down the path lit by torches to a bonfire in front of the old log house. There we gathered to hear scary stories from the cloaked ‘spooks’ before the show began. No, this wasn’t to be your typical theater experience, I soon realized.
It was immersive, as the children were soon shy of the quiet, eerie-cloaked figure that in one hand held an old lamp and the other hand, slowly raising and pointing out that they might become the next ‘spook’ of the theater renowned for “Unto These Hills.”
The dark slowly set in as we gathered around the fire and heard tales including the Cherokee legend of U‘tlun‘ta, or Spearfinger, a terrible ogress with a long, stony forefinger she used to stab those who she came near. Always hungry, she fed on human livers.
“The Sleepy Hollow Experience,” step by step, drew the audience into the past— folding in Cherokee tales and bringing the early American settlement period to life with a retelling of Washington Irving’s short story “Sleepy Hollow.”
We soon got to take our seats, urged to sit close to the stage as “Masked Ball” by Jocelyn Pook played on the speakers, with its creepy chants and moody string music.
I was so ready to be scared, but once the show began, I realized that more than anything— I would be greatly entertained by the show’s humor and wowed by the performances of the cast, not the least of which was the four-legged actor who had to quickly learn his parts due to the previous actor becoming ill.
We first meet the narrators, in this case Karley Rene and Cody Taylor, who quickly brought the audience into their character’s fascination and joy of hearing the tale of Ichabod Crane. I hadn’t known the show would be a musical but soon was laughing at the jokes and swaying in my seat with the crowd.
We all think we know this classic tale, but seeing it brought to life offered something new: transporting you to the past in a small town surrounded by unexplained horrors.
We are introduced to Ichabod played by Farley Norman, who immediately falls for the beautiful and beguiling Katrina Van Tassel played by Sarah Elaine. A rivalry is quickly set up against the manly “Brom Bones” played by Thad Walker, who also seeks the hand of Ms. Van Tassel.
We get a glimpse of The Headless Horseman as Ichabod first enters the town.
Without giving away the whole show, I’ll say that we are taken on a journey of entertainment— as we follow Ichabod, who is known for an interest in the spooky and has a great imagination— into Sleepy Hollow.
There are stage changes that are quite impressive, the narrators dramatically drawing out the settings from the schoolhouse to the local bar.
I found the choice of Ms. Van Tassel’s instrument that she gets lessons on with the talented church choir leader Crane quite funny.
We were encouraged to interact with the actors during intermission, and they came oh-so-close to our seats during the show. There was even a photo-op, where we could prove we “kept our heads” at the show.
As the story unfolds, we know Crane will soon be faced with more than just spectres of the imagination. The climax of the story nears as they gather together for the great All Hallow’s Eve Ball at the Van Tassel estate. We then enter the night after hearing scary stories along with Crane.
All the stories of ghosts and goblins that he had heard in the afternoon now came crowding upon his recollection. The night grew darker and darker; the stars seemed to sink deeper in the sky, and driving clouds occasionally hid them from his sight.
In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.
After seeing the show, I had to revisit the original short story by Washington Irving. I was surprised to learn how true to the story “The Sleepy Hollow Experience” was.
I’ll say nothing more except this: seeing The Headless Horseman is the best part!
The Brian Clowdus Experience production continues through Nov. 3.
perience/ for tickets and more information.