Theater Review - Lose your head with Serenbe's 'Sleepy Hollow'

Playhouse takes spooky tale from the barn into the woods

The Sleepy Hollow story has all the elements of a perfectly creepy Halloween adventure — a beautiful woman (Katrina Von Tassel, played by porcelain-skinned Jessica Miesel), an underdog love interest (Ichabod Crane, played by Chris Mayers), and, naturally, a man riding a horse with a pumpkin for a head. Sure, you could rent the Johnny Depp/Christina Ricci film version and sit at home, but if you want to really feel like you are a part of the experience, Serenbe Playhouse is staging a live version of the story called The Sleepy Hollow Experience out in the woods.

This is the third year of this show being performed by Serenbe, and until this summer's box office smash musical Evita, Sleepy Hollow was the theater's top selling show. With an extended five-week run and additional late night performances on Fridays and Saturdays, director Brian Clowdus is optimistic that Sleepy Hollow is poised to take back the top earner spot. Whereas the fall show started as something to fill the gap between the summer musical and holiday season shows, Clowdus says that it has become a local tradition, and that audiences eagerly anticipate its return. For Serenbe Playhouse, it seemed like a quick and easy production to pull together. The play is relatively short and naturally less focused on dialogue, given the incorporation of action and traveling. Over the years it developed into a popular event.

"It's a fully immersive experience where from the second you check in, as usual, you're greeted by characters and they lead you through the world of Sleepy Hollow," Clowdus says.

There are two storyteller characters who take the audience through the ghostly town. In previous years the action has taken place mostly in the barn on site, but in order to accommodate growing audiences and to provide a new experience, this year visitors will follow their guides through the woods.

Clowdus worked with a New York-based set designer Adam Koch on creating the sensation of the entire town being a broken down skeleton, the bare bones of what was once a thriving world. Expect eerie scenery with a gothic flair, including the finale in a covered bridge. You will feel as though you are in a ghost town, with remains of buildings and unearthly guides detailing the story. During intermission, the audience can enjoy a Halloween frolic complete with carnival games, themed cocktails, and musical performances by the cast.

No Sleepy Hollow story would be complete without an appearance from the Headless Horseman, Clowdus says that the entire evening is more on the spectrum of being eerie and spooky, as opposed to bloody or gory. Whereas some theater experiences promise to have you on the edge of your seat, this show gets you on your feet, adding to the sensation that anything can happen in the town of Sleepy Hollow. So, it's a less scary option than Netherworld if you're looking to get into the Halloween spirit.

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