Fall is upon us and with it the usual stream of Halloween tales we all know and love. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving was originally published in 1819 and has seen many iterations in music and film. But now, at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church, we have the world premiere of a new musical adaptation of the classic story: Ichabod: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by artistic power couple Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith.
With music and lyrics by Conner and book and additional lyrics by Smith, the musical follows the story of Ichabod Crane, who arrives from Boston to the small town of Sleepy Hollow to become their new schoolmaster. Met with pleasantry and an abundance of caution, Crane quickly learns that the quaint town is steeped with tradition and superstition, and fitting in might not be as easy as he hoped.
Conner and Smith co-direct the production on the small black box stage of the Cauldron, which Scenic Designer Marge Jervis has turned into a room with an upstage wall made from wooden slats and a doorway on either side. The rustic look, with a table and multiple benches that can be moved around the stage, allows the space to easily transition from a school room to a church or a dance hall as needed.
The original music, composed by Conner with Orchestrator and Music Supervisor Warren Freeman, is a lovely score mixed with ballads with rich harmonies colored with suspense, romance, and at other times softer pieces with a diaphanous tone. This balance of sound and intensity fluctuates throughout the show, carrying a constant feel of uncertainty, and mystery.
Colum Goebelbecker is perfect as the titular Ichabod Crane. He is slightly awkward but bursts with a passion and enthusiasm that endears him to his students and the audience. However, unimpressed by Crane is Mevrouw Van Tassel, played by Erin Granfield. Mevrouw is an important figure in the tiny town and finds Ichabod underwhelming, to say the least.
Granfield has a commanding presence and an even more powerful voice. She comes off as a strict and stiff character but shows some capacity for comfort when she sings “Be Not Afraid” to the schoolchildren after they become rattled from discussing the headless horseman.
Mavrouw’s young daughter, Katrina Van Tassel (Brook Bloomquist), is not quite as immune to Ichabod’s charm. There is an obvious and immediate attraction between the two, though it is made quite clear that the two are not on a level playing field.
Bloomquist plays Katrina as a woman unsure of what she wants. After hearing of Ichabod’s roots, she sings longingly about “Boston” and visiting someplace far from Sleepy Hollow. Her desire for variation and excitement in her life feeds her attraction to Ichabod, which seems to come more from a need for change than from actual feeling.
Playing the bullish Brom Bones is Bobby Libby with a booming voice and swagger to match. He is seemingly betrothed to Katrina, though it is an outdated arrangement that has lost its spark. Libby plays up the war hero, resigned to drink, always one mug away from downright sloppy. He excites the children with his recounting of the Legend in “Chippety-Choppety.”
But Brom is not a one-note character. Despite his careless behavior, he harbors true feelings for Katrina, and while his entitlement to Katrina bears the markings of toxic masculinity, his love is genuine.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Ichabod and Katrina do form a bond that shows the potential of true attachment. Bloomquist and Goebelbecker sing the beautiful “Blue” together as their polite flirtation grows.
And when Katrina engages in an exercise of storytelling with the schoolchildren in my personal favorite, “Perhaps,” she crawls out of her comfort zone and imagines a new story far from the usual grimness of the Tale of Sleepy Hollow that the town fears and simultaneously prides themselves on.
In that moment, Ichabod is clearly head over heels and has proven to help Katrina create the variety she has been searching for in her life. But despite the characters’ chemistry, Ichabod does not belong. He is an outsider, no matter how hard he tries to ingratiate himself. Even his voice, while sweet and beautiful, is overpowered by the boldness of the others.
Goebelbecker infuses Ichabod with kindness and compassion, holding out his notes starting low and soft but slowly infusing them with volumes of emotion. While wonderful, that innocence is swallowed up by the darkness and foreboding that hangs over the town of Sleepy Hollow.
Conner and Smith’s world premiere of Ichabod: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a delightful reimagining of the classic Halloween tale. With beautiful vocals, guided by the musical direction of Paige Rammelkamp, and strong performances from the cast, this show adds new depth to a centuries-old ghost story.
Unlike the characters in many previous tellings of Ichabod Crane’s sad disappearance, these are far from one-dimensional. They are fleshed out with complexities and contradictions that make the hero’s demise all the more heart-wrenching.
Creative Cauldron has mounted a wonderful production that is full of tradition and lore but colored with a true heart that a modern audience can connect to. This fresh adaptation is perfect for those familiar with the story who want to experience it anew, and for the next generation that has yet to hear of Ichabod Crane and the dreaded Headless Horseman.
Running Time: Approximately one hour 30 minutes, with no intermission.
Ichabod: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow runs through October 30, 2022 at Creative Cauldron, 410 South Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA. To purchase tickets ($20–$45), call the box office at 703-436-9948 or go online.
COVID Safety: Masks are required at all times for all patrons and visitors regardless of vaccination status during all indoor performances. Masks must be worn in the lobby, inside the theater, and in restrooms. The complete Creative Cauldron COVID-19 Protocols are here.
Ichabod: The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Music and lyrics by Matt Conner
Book and additional lyrics by Stephen Gregory Smith
Directed by Conner & Smith
Musical Director Paige Rammelkamp
Cast: Colum Goebelbecker (Ichabod Crane), Bobby Libby (Brom Bones), Brook Bloomquist (Katrina Van Tassel), Erin Granfield (Mevrouw), Lenny Mendez (Baltus Van Tassel), Lenny Mendez (Hendrika), Garrett Matthews (Male Swing), Holly Kelly (Female Swing), and Featuring the Musical Theater Training Ensemble: Andrea Banuelos Valenzuela, Henry Gill, Allison Harman, Daniella Hirai, Emma Howell, Ella Johnston, Carmen Ortiz, Matilda Phillips, Elaina Rosenberger, Madeleine Ruffini, Sophie Silva, Nika Temkin
Production Team: Costume & Set Design: Margie Jervis, Stage Manager: Nicholas J. Goodman, Lighting Designer: Lynn Joslin, Directed by: Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith, Musical Direction by: Paige Rammelkamp, Assistant Directed by Holly Kelly, Music Supervision by: Warren Freeman, Sound Engineer: Rich Farella
Staff: Laura Connors Hull: Founding Artistic Director, Janis Johnson-Tartt: General Manager, Nicholas J Goodman: Operations Manager, Elizabeth Meade: Development Director, Lenny Mendez: Associate Artist, Will Stevenson: Casting Director
Scenic/Property/Costume Staff: Andy Reilly: Scenic Prop and Costume Assistant, Jared Jacknow: Carpentry Assistant
Scenic/Property/Costume Volunteers: Don Hesse, Lydia Carlisle, Maureen Budetti, Geri Hirai, Sandra Wilson, Naomi Lipsky, Peggy Buddeke, Judy Ortiz