Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule

Photo: attached. Caption, Bryan Banville, Tom Zohar,
and Kay Marian McNellen

Photo by Bayani DeCastro/Studio B Photo Productions
Adam Wachter is a New York City-based theatre musician. He's written a charming and spooky chamber musical named Tarrytown, and he's given the world premiere to a small San Diego troupe called Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company. The company, in turn, has mounted a production that shows off the musical's strengths and (mostly) hides its weaknesses.

Mr. Wachter's tale takes off from Washington Irving's short story, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," which takes place in an area adjoining Tarrytown, New York. He's set it in contemporary times: Ichabod Crane (Tom Zohar) arrives in Tarrytown from Manhattan to take up a position teaching high school music. Katrina (Kay Marian McNellen), the principal's assistant, immediately takes a liking to him and invites him to dinner. There, he meets Katrina's husband Brom (Bryan Banville), who for some reason Katrina has not consulted before issuing the invitation.

Each of the characters parallels the principals in Irving's story, with two substantial exceptions: Ichabod is gay and Katrina and Brom are already married to each other. In the Irving version, Ichabod and Brom are suitors competing for Katrina's hand in marriage.

Because Tarrytown is set in contemporary times, each of the three characters has contemporary problems and concerns. Despite his initial disgruntlement at Katrina's invitation, Brom seems to take to Ichabod, commenting on small town life and sharing his knowledge of local history. Ichabod, in turn, takes to Brom, asking to be schooled on the intricacies of watching football, Brom's favorite pastime. Ichabod becomes a confident to both Katrina and Brom, effectively becoming a "man in the middle" of their relationship.

Eventually, the 90-minute, no intermission tale turns more somber and ghostly, with consequences for each of the characters. But, while the ending parallels the original story to some degree, it seems to happen without sufficient motivation. If there are clues that reveal themselves as such after the fact, I missed them.

Up to that point, though, the story seems ordinary but au courant, the songs plentiful and melodic, and the lyrics inspired to the level of tour de force. Mr. Wachter especially excels at complex rhythms and unexpected rhymes. In Katrina's song, "My New Gay Best Friend," for example, he rhymes "Manhattan" with "gratin," "dinner" with "thinner," and "antsy" with "fancy," all in the same verse.

Backyard Renaissance Theatre Company has given this premiere a basic but high quality treatment. They have constructed a unit set (designed by Kristen Flores, with important property elements designed by Bonnie Durben) that serves as the dining room and living room of Katrina and Brom's home. Scenes not set in the home are performed in a center space between the two rooms and designated by lighting changes (designed by Curtis Mueller). Folding chairs for the audience are arrayed across the two rooms, making for craning of necks to see some of the action. Musical director Steven Withers is stationed with a keyboard at the rear of the audience on the dining room side. From that perch, he makes his instrument sound like several and expertly guides the performers through the intricacies of the score.

All three performances are first rate under the co-direction of Francis Gercke and Anthony Methvin, with choreography by Katie Whalley Banville. Mr. Zohar is lean and lanky, like Ichabod, and he plays the role as if it were written for him. Mr. Banville, a regular performer in local musicals, effectively breaks type to navigate the different sides of Brom's character. Ms. McNellen is a strong singer and a quirky presence. Her acting should mature as she gains professional experience.

Tarrytown opened without a great deal of fanfare but proves itself to rival in quality the several new musicals that have been staged in San Diego this year. It closes this weekend, so hurry if you want to see it.

Tarrytown, through December 17, 2017, at the Diversionary Theatre Black Box space, 4545 Park Boulevard, in San Diego's University Heights neighborhood. Tickets available online at