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Revised 'Sleepy Hollow' to be staged in Centerville

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Oct. 15 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

CENTERVILLE — Are you ready for a good scare? CenterPoint Legacy Theatre has a musical fright ready with “Sleepy Hollow.”

Weber State theater professor Jim Christian’s original musical, which was honored with a prestigious national playwriting award, will receive its first semiprofessional staging Oct. 17-Nov. 12.

“There are moments in the original production where there were not just audible gasps but a couple of what I call ‘scream moments,’ ” Christian said. “That can be achieved in movies, but live theater, it’s very rare. And, at those times during the show, we were like, ‘Score!’ ”

The musical’s first production enjoyed a sold-out run on the Ogden campus and was restaged with the same student actors for the regional Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Musical Theater in St. George in February 2009, where it won the playwriting award.

Christian wrote the script and lyrics to “Sleepy Hollow” and Utah composer Tom Edward Clark, the music. After receiving the regional honor, the musical was selected to be workshopped at the National Music Theater Conference the following summer.

A revised and tightened version will be staged by CenterPoint under Christian’s direction.

“I’m very excited by the strong cast members,” Christian said. “With this production we are not limited to casting students, so the actors are all age-appropriate. Now the teenager characters will be played by teenage actors and the roles for 50-year-olds will be played by 50-year-olds. And this is also a larger performing space, which will serve the production well.”

Christian based his show on “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” written by Washington Irving in 1820. With Irving’s companion work, “Rip Van Winkle,” the popular short story is among the earliest examples of American fiction still read today.

“I became acquainted with ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ through the Disney cartoon, and I saw it when I was a small child at a Saturday matinee at the Murray Theater on south State Street,” Christian recalls. “I can remember being terrified and exhilarated by the story. It was fascinating. I absolutely loved it, but at the same time I was cowering in my seat.

“Ever since then, the story has fascinated me. It’s so iconic in American literature and folklore. It’s been given so many treatments in film, literature and music. But there’s never been a successful musical theater production. They attempted to put it on Broadway in the 1940s. But it only ran for 12 performances. It didn’t have legs, or a head, I guess,” he joked.

A different version of the classic tale “The Hollow,” written by the Tony-nominated actor Hunter Foster, recently premiered at the Signature Theatre in Washington, D.C., and was reviewed as an “admirable effort.”

With 30 pages in the original story and “only five characters that are named, seven if you count the horses that are named,” Christian added a backstory with the town being haunted by different spirits and the source for the curse on the town. The well-known characters of Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman, along with Abraham “Brom Bones” Van Brunt and Katrina Van Tassel, remain the central focus, but additional townspeople add depth to the musical.

“I am also very excited about the quality of the music that will be in this production,” Christian said. A national group, called the MT Pit, has recorded live orchestration, and “Sleepy Hollow” will be the organization’s initial venture into licensing as it promotes the show for future productions, promising "Sleepy Hollow" life outside of Utah.

Another intriguing aspect of “Sleepy Hollow” will be the special effects devised by professional magician Paul Draper. In order to keep the magical effects confidential, all production members are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement.

“Sleepy Hollow” is the second work by Christian that has received national recognition. “Pirated,” based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance,” received a national playwriting award and was performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.

“There are lots of different Christmas musicals, but when it comes to Halloween musicals, there is hardly anything out there,” Christian said. “This will give people an opportunity to see an exciting piece of theater that is completely seasonal right now. And ticket sales have been going incredibly well. A lot of the better seats will soon be completely gone for all performances.”

If you go:

What: “Sleepy Hollow”

Where: Centerville’s CenterPoint Legacy Theatre

When: Oct. 17-Nov. 12

Cost: $18, adults, $17 students/seniors; Tuesday and Wednesday performances: $16, adults, $15 students/seniors

Phone: 801-298-1302

Web: CenterPointTheatre.com

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