‘Wiley and the Hairy Man’ at Imagination Stage

Imagination Stage presents Wiley and the Hairy Man, an adventurous folktale about a boy who must face his biggest fear, with Book by Suzan Zeder and Music by Harry Pickens. Pickens and Zeder co-wrote the lyrics for this production, directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer, and with musical direction by Deborah Jacobson.

L to R: Kevin Collins, Ian Anthony Coleman, Matthew Schleigh, and Vaughn Irving (the Hairy Man). Photo by Margot Schulman.
L to R: Kevin Collins, Ian Anthony Coleman, Matthew Schleigh, and Vaughn Irving (the Hairy Man). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Scenic Designer Samina Vieth transforms the stage into southern swamplands, with ragged sheets of moss hanging amongst nets, ropes, and wooden planks. The set is multi-leveled and utilized creatively by the actors. What I love most about the set is how the lighting and sound work together to make it come alive. Lighting Designer Cory Ryan Frank uses dappled greens and Sound Designer Christopher Baine uses effects like frogs and crickets, and the effect is vibrant and lively. Fog effects also add another layer to the atmosphere. The performers onstage also make up the live band and chorus, and Costume Designer Katie Touart cleverly uses colors and texture to help them blend into their surroundings, even going as far to attach vines and other elements to their costumes. The live music was by far my favorite part of the production; the selection of instruments used is a wide one (spoons, guitar, violin, banjo, and drums, to name just a few), and the musicians/actors walk about the stage with them as they perform their roles, making the music an intrinsic part of the show.

Wiley (Ian Anthony Coleman) is a young man of small ambition and even smaller confidence. Happy to lay around all day with his loyal Dog (a great performance by Rafael Sebastain), Wiley argues when his mother (Theresa Cunningham) tells him to venture deeper into the swamp to collect firewood. Hidden in the depths of the swamp is the notorious Hairy Man (voiced by Vaughn Irving), a fearful giant who feasts on humans! Wiley’s mother maintains that he must face and overcome his fear, and tries to prepare him for their meeting through the study and use of conjuring. However, Wiley remains resistant, convinced that his spirit is too weak to overcome such dangers. When Wiley is suddenly thrown into a confrontation with the dreaded Hairy Man himself, will he be able to “conjure” up his inner strength and confidence?

I loved everything about this show, from the concept itself (have any children who are afraid of monsters in their closets? This show is for them), to the performances and technical elements. The song-and-dance numbers range from upbeat and exciting (“I’m a Conjuring Man” sung by Coleman, is particularly good) to downright chilling, like the somewhat grave “When the Hairy Man Gets Mad.”

The singing voices are crisp and professional. Theresa Cunningham shows off a powerhouse voice as she sings about how she is the “Best Conjuring Woman Around.” I also love how the dialogue is rhymed, which really accents the overall magical theme of the show. And the Hairy Man himself? He is actually a massive rod puppet that takes up to three people to manipulate, and easily blends right back into the set when not in use. Audience interaction also plays a big role in this production, which is added fun for everyone.

(L to R: Kevin Collins, Ian Anthony Coleman, Theresa Cunningham, Shanta Parasuraman, Vaughn Irving, and Matthew Schleigh). Photo by Margot Schulman.
(L to R: Kevin Collins, Ian Anthony Coleman, Theresa Cunningham, Shanta Parasuraman, Vaughn Irving, and Matthew Schleigh). Photo by Margot Schulman.

This show is an excellent coming-of-age story that appeals to everyone. However, I will say that there are some moments that can be scary for younger audience members, which is why this show is recommended for ages 6+. The ensemble works incredibly well together, and I loved how the musicians could move so fluidly while at the same time playing an instrument. Everyone onstage plays a selection of instruments (except Coleman, whose hands are quite full with the lead role), and they are thrilling to watch. Aside from Rafael Sebastain, Theresa Cunningham, and Vaughn Irving, the rest of the chorus is rounded out by Kevin Collins, Matthew Schleigh, and Shanta Parasuraman. This is one extremely talented group of artists!

Imagination Stage’s production of Wiley and the Hairy Man is tons of fun! I highly recommend it for a family-friendly outing!

Running Time: Approximately 75 minutes, without an intermission.

Wiley and the Hairy Man plays through March 15, 2015 at Imagination Stage– 4908 Auburn Avenue Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call 301-280-1660 or purchase them  online.

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