The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” that enduring slice of Americana, is the basis of an earnest new tuner written by Hunter Foster and set to an invigorating and romantic score by composer Matt Conner, who also penned the lyrics. But its debut at Arlington, Va.’s Signature Theater suffers from an inadequate book that grinds sluggishly to a foregone conclusion.
The Hollow” is one of two musical commissions from Signature making their bows in revolving repertory under a grant from the Shen Family Foundation. The org supports emerging composers through Signature’s five year-old American Musical Voices Project.
This one-acter takes liberties with the 190 year-old Washington Irving classic, tweaking the story for dramatic effect with a pivotal plot about religious fervor and intolerance. Superstition mixes with intimidation within the tiny Hudson River hamlet as heroes and villains adhere to familiar stereotypes. The unseen headless horseman still terrorizes the townsfolk, eerily depicted by sound director Matt Rowe’s advancing hoof beats and Chris Lee’s shadowy lighting.
Conner (“Nevermore”) delivers roughly a dozen traditional and generally pleasing melodies that include a customary blend of rousing ensemble numbers and heartfelt solos and duets. A talented cast is headed by Sam Ludwig as Ichabod Crane and Whitney Bashor as Katrina Van Tassel, Irving’s “blooming lass of fresh eighteen.” Bashor is superb as she envisions the wonders of the outside world in “Boston” and cuddles with tenor Ludwig in “Little Things.”
But along with some much-needed drama, “Hollow” would benefit from renewed attention to shading of its numerous one-dimensional characters such as the perpetually hysterical mother. As it is, this simplistic opening version is perhaps better suited to youthful auds than adults.