Rust Belt tells comedy version of ‘Sleepy Hollow’

YOUNGSTOWN — Robert Dennick Joki believes many adaptations of Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” miss the point of the story, making Icabod Crane the would-be hero and the Headless Horseman the villain.

“Icabod Crane is an opportunist who comes in to exploit a small New England town,” Joki said. “If you read between the lines, this is the story of how they (the townspeople) get rid of this person.”

“Hollow,” a musical written by Joki and Josh Taylor, won’t make that mistake.

The musical, which premieres Friday for a three-weekend run by Joki’s Rust Belt Theater Company, is something Joki has wanted to do for a long time. He called the book “one of my favorites pieces of American literature,” and he still has a copy of the book from the 1800s that originally belonged to his great-grandfather.

“I wrote a play for children, ‘Rip and Icabod,’ that was a mash up of Rip Van Winkle and ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,”’ he said. “It toured schools in 2008, but I’ve always wanted to do something for adults.”

“Hollow” tells the familiar tale from the perspective of the townspeople. While he described the score as modern and rock influenced, he wanted the show to have the intimacy of a ghost story told around a campfire, so the “stage” will be in the middle of the Calvin Center’s intimate performance space with the audience seated on three sides of the actors.

The cast features Bernadette Lim, Kage Coven, Celena Coven, Lisa Torrence, Ryan Musgrove, Jack Rusk, Alivia Dawn, Janelle Yohman, Leon Avery, Samandriel Mentzer, Katharine Skaggs, Madi Pomeroy, Logan Stafford, Rachel Clifford, Geri Dewitt and Cassie Wirtz.

The in-the-round staging isn’t the biggest change. “Hollow” will be one of the first shows written by Joki that he isn’t directing. Mary Boldish James will stage its inaugural production. Joki said he needed a break physically from handling multiple tasks at the theater, and he felt comfortable turning “Hollow” over to her after she directed one of the stories in Rust Belt’s summer production “The Life of a Couch.”

“It’s hard,” Joki admitted. “I’m a little bit of a control freak. I have to remind myself it’s not my place to say something. I have a certain amount of say as the writer, but if I’m going to let another director do my work, I have to allow them their vision.

“She will find things that I didn’t realize were there. She’ll find moments that I would have missed, especially in blocking and characterization. It’s eased my worries about what would happen … If I let someone else direct my work, the world will not end. It can still be everything I envisioned with a little bit more from someone else.”