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The Trail to Oregon – Starkid (Review) (Spoilers)

How many of you reading remember the computer game Oregon Trail? For those who don’t know what I’m talking about; it was supposed to be an educational game where you took a journey on the trail the pioneers took to Oregon. It was a way for the player to learn about the hardships that those who took the journey had to endure. What it actually was, was a test to see if you could reach the end without killing half of your party. What made it even better was the fact that you could pick your wagon party, generally picking friends and family and trying to do all you could to make it to the end with a few of them alive.

Starkid (a musical theater group based in Chicago) just released their latest musical called “The Trail to Oregon,” on youtube. And it was everything I was hoping it would be!

When I heard that Starkid was creating a parody show of the game I knew that they would be able to do it justice. They did so well at parodying Harry Potter and Disney movies that I knew they would be able to incorporate all the jokes and ideas (fording the river, being the banker, dying of dystentry, and never being able to bring back more than a quarter of the food you shot and hunted) that we know so well while also giving us a poignant story that was fun, entertaining and also hit an emotional note. I was not disappointed at all.

The story is about a family of five who are making the journey to Oregon. They have no choice because the father burned down their farm. The father is gung-ho about the new adventure while the rest of the family is weary about what is going to happen to them. The story is about them trying to not only stay alive but also strengthen their connection as a family.

While making jokes about hunting, landmarks like Fort Hall and setting pace and rations there is a poignant story about a family struggling to stay together and not lose each other. This is one of the reasons I love this group, they create a story not only that make you laugh but also make you feel for the characters. You feel bad for the father who desperately wants to find a new and better life for his family, but has no idea how to do that for them. You understand the wife’s frustration in wanting to do what is best for her family while also trying not to lose hope. You feel triumphant when they rescue the teenage daughter together and make a pact to reach the end as a family. You grieve for them when it appears they may not be able to keep that pact.

As with all Starkid shows you get sniffle and sad moments but a giggle and a joke are never far behind. They really know how to mix comedy with telling a good and true story. It isn’t all ridiculousness. At the end there is always a message that cuts through the jokes and laughter.

The stand out actor for me in this show was Joey Richter. Since the cast was small he played a number of parts from the general store owner to the ox. He had to change voices and personalities constantly and he did so well at it. He made each character stand out and not fade away. He changed voices and costumes constantly, all without getting any of them confused or mixed up. His talent really stood out in this show. In past shows he was one character, maybe two if they needed a background character. In this show he had to carry all the side parts and he did it so well. All the rest of the cast was very talented as well, especially Rachel Soglin and Jamie Lynn Beatty’s voices, but Joey’s performance was the part that stood out most to me.

One significant aspect of the show that was different then the usual shows was that they let the audience make some choices about what was going to happen, making each show unique. First the audience was able to choose the names of wagon party, just like in the game. They did a song about picking names, all picking normal names until the grandfather picks ridiculous names. This moment lets the audience know that they are allowed to pick some ridiculous things to name the characters. In the version that was put on Youtube, the party names are: the father was Jack Bauer, the mother was Slippery When Wet, the teenage daughter was Mouthface, the son was Craphole and the grandfather was Tittymitty. I loved this concept of including the audience and letting them choose these ridiculous names. And I give credit to Jeff Blim ( as well as Nick and Matt Lang and additional writing by Brian Holden) for the great script and the cast for the great acting, because by the end even though the characters have crazy sounding names you still feel a connection to them. The ridiculous names don’t make you feel any less connected to the family or to their struggles and triumphs.

The audience was also able to choose the person who was going to die in the end as well. In the livestream version it was the son but the youtube allows you to choose each family member and see them die of dysentery. Each actor brings their own personally and acting talent to that end. I really liked that they allowed us to be able to see each ending.

I highly enjoyed this musical. It was probably one of my favorites of all the shows that they have done. They not only incorporated all the concepts we know from the game but they also told a significant story about a family who just wanted a new and better life for themselves. The songs were fun and catchy. The actors were all great and portrayed their characters well. The singing was great as usual. If you know the Oregon Trail game you should definitely check out the show for a dose of nostalgia that will make you laugh.

“Twisted”- Starkid show review

I have been a fan of Team Starkid from their very first video. Team Starkid are a musical theater group based out of Chicago currently. They are a group of friends who went to the University of Michigan together. A few years ago the put up a play on Youtube called, A Harry Potter Musical (since changed to A Very Potter Musical for copywrite reasons). They put it up so friends and family could see it without them having to make a ton of different DVDs. Not long after it went it up it became a viral hit. Since then the have a gathered a faithful following across the internet.

One of the reasons I am such a fan of Starkid is because of instead of just basking in the popularity of their video for a minute, they took what was being handed to them and ran with it. They saw an opportunity to continue to do what they love and they have been doing that every since. Since then they have put up that first video they have made two other Harry Potter parody musicals, a musical about a talking penis(actually extremely creative), a musical that is basically like Little Mermaid in space, a musical about Batman and their latest musical Twisted, the untold story of Jafar. They have also traveled around the country on two tours with the music from their shows as well as appearing at a number of conventions. Each member is also involved in side projects as well.

The insanely talented group released their latest musical Twisted on Youtube on Thanksgiving. Previously their musicals have been completely funded and produced by themselves, this was the first time they asked for help by the way of a Kickstarter. They made a video explaining their idea for the show and why they needed the money. I donated because of how a big of a fan I am of theirs. They are seemingly humble people and they were floored by how much support they received for this project.

I have been very curios from the beginning how this show would turn out now that they had this money. I have to say I was not disappointed in the least bit. There was little to no scenery but the puppets were spot on, the script was brilliant, the songs were catchy and emotional and the acting was , as always, fantastic. This production was fun to watch, made you laugh and cry and gave a fantastic message as each of their shows always does.

There are a number of faces you will see often in Starkid shows. Overtime they have been steadily adding new faces and cast members as either original cast members move and are unable to come back to Chicago or they gain different jobs making them unavailable. I also think they are expanding to broaden their talent pool and increase the types of show they can do in the future.

Jafar was played by Dylan Saunders, and he was fantastic as he always is. Dylan has played a variety of parts from Dumbledore to, a not-all-that smart, country bumpkin who falls in love with a robot. He has shown that he has the ability to play a variety of parts and make each one memorable and quotable.

I really liked his portrayal of Jafar. The point of Twisted was to tell Jafar’s side of the Aladdin story. Dylan made Jafar an extremely sympathetic character who we easily relate to and feel connected to. Jafar is no longer a villain out to take over Agrabah and become an all consuming ruler. Jafar is a man who loses the love of his life and is constantly battling to better a land that wants absolutely nothing to do with him.

The emotion he brings to the moment when he loses his wife and to the moment when he decides saving himself is not as important as saving the land his loves, is fantastic and heartbreaking. You hurt watching it because you completely understand and relate to his plight. Jafar is a tragic hero, he has huge ideals and knows ways to make them happen but the world does not care and is constantly fighting against him. Yet he still stands on his feet and tries to do the best he can. In the end all we want to see is him happy and whole. Dylan’s portrayal is what makes this work so well. He doesn’t shy away from any of the deeper emotions, he gives Jafar a certain light and life that makes it very easy to root for him throughout the whole play.

Meredith Stepien plays Jafar’s wife Sherrezade, a young woman who loses an ear because she looked at a nobleman wrong. Jafar helps her and bandages her ear, instantly falling in love with her. She in turn falls in love with him as well. They begin a sort of tragic love story, though one that ends up getting a happy ending.

Meredith makes Sherrezade the perfect antithesis to Jafar. Jafar is a very rational man who believes in what reason and science can tell him. Jafar doesn’t dream or believe in wishing. But once he meets Sherrezade he begins to understand the value of dreams. His wife is a story teller, she lives in a fantasy world where you have to suspend a certain amount of belief to be any good at telling convincing stories. She believes in tales of lost loves reuniting and hidden treasures. Most importantly though she believes in Jafar.

There is a very poignant moment after Sherrezade dies that Jafar sings some lines that really stick with you and wraps up how much Sherrezade has influenced Jafar. “Science says you’re dead and gone forever. Reason says I’m talking to the air. But something in my heart, some hidden part illogically says you are there,” (Starkid). These lines sum up the two’s relationship perfectly. Sherrezade shows Jafar what it means to love and that dreams and wishes aren’t completely useless. Meredith gives Sherrezade this breath of life, she makes the character innocent and completely lovable. You fall in love with her from the moment you meet her. She makes Sherrezade a character who absolutely loves Jafar, they are the perfect couple. We run a range of emotions with her character, from contentment to sadness to complete and utter joy.

The antagonist of this musical is Aladdin. Jeff Blim plays Aladdin and plays him so well that from the moment we meet him we hate him. Aladdin is a sex crazed jerk, who is crude and selfish. He has a very harsh tongue full of curses and sexual innuendo that makes you cringe sometimes. Aladdin only thinks about himself, will never do an honest days work in his life and is a complete coward. Jeff gives Aladdin a comedic edge that make you laugh and not completely turn away from the character that could get very irritating to watch otherwise. We want to see Aladdin get caught and imprisoned, we do not want him to win in any fashion. The writing in combination with Jeff’s portrayal do a fantastic job of making us hate a usually beloved character.

Rachel Soglin plays Jasmine, though they just call her Princess. The Princess is your typical teenager. She has highly romantic notions about life and love. She can’t see past herself and wants only what she believe is best. At first she is annoying at how shallow and child like she is but she quickly grows up. She sees Aladdin is nothing but a sleaze and that Jafar is actually someone she can trust and lean on. Rachel is new to Starkid and she did a fantastic job at playing the Princess. She really does a great job showing the slow growth of her character and making it all very believable. In the end you are proud at how far she has come and have complete faith in her ability to run the kingdom.

One of my favorite parts of this musical was the relationship between Jafar and the Princess. At first it is very much like a bratty teenager hating on anything their parent or guardian says and does, it is cliche and seen before yet refreshing at how real it seems. The dialog between them is fun and yet heart wrenching. Near the end when they finally connect for a short time it is heart warming. The Princess sees she has had a father this whole time and realizes that because of Jafar she has the ability to run her home the right way.

Matt and Nick Lang as well as Eric Kahn Gale wrote the script for this musical. Matt and Nick have had a hand in writing every Starkid show up to this point. I loved this script. The dialogue was perfect, incorporating so many Disney lines and themes. It flowed from start to finish keeping you interested and making you smile each time you caught a reference or a joke. The musical stays faithful to being a Disney parody while also being deep and poignant. The seamless way they incorporated so many different lines without making anything feel forced is why I love watching these shows. Everything moves so easily and smoothly, that you are captivated from start to finish.

There were a number of songs and scenes I loved. One of my favorites was the scene with the song “Take Off Your Clothes”. I laughed so hard from start to finish of this song. If you don’t get the joke, it is said that in the original recordings of Aladdin during the scene where Aladdin is convincing Jasmine to go with him on the carpet he whispers “take off your clothes”. The song continually makes references the other supposed hidden sexual messages throughout Disney movies. They have Aladdin use subliminal messaging to try and convince the princess to sleep with him. They effortlessly incorporate this whole bit with this one idea. All the references are perfect and entertaining.

The Princes’s character is shown to grow in this moment as well. She refuses to see what Aladdin sees. She constantly points out what is really going on from seeing SFX and not Sex to pointing out that is is actually just the priest’s knee. They do a great job of showing how much like Jafar the Princess is. She is not a naive child and she won’t pretend to see what isn’t there. She sees the reality and understands what is truly going on. She can and will think for herself whenever the occasion calls for it.

The quintessential love song is “A Thousand and One Nights”. This ballad is soft and carries you away. It is extremely beautiful and heart warming. You can feel the love that Jafar and Sherrezade have for each other as they sing. The lyrics are a beautiful way to illustrate the connection these two share. The way they build the whole thing around telling one another’s story and continuing their stories with each other, of course, appealed to me. It is an idea I can see, and feel completely connected to.

The best song and scene of the whole show was the title song “Twisted”. Jafar is trying to decide between running and hiding and saving himself or saving his home and risking his life. He asks a very important question, does it matter? His story is going to be the same either way. He is going to end up the villain no matter what way he chooses. His story is going to be twisted around and turned to make him the one who chooses selfishly no matter what he really does. As he is trying to determine what his choice should be he gets some advice from other Disney villains.

This is a great moment. It shows just how detailed oriented and how much they know about Disney. This moment really exemplifies how they are able to see stories that we all know from a variety of different points of views.The villains all get to tell their sides of the stories. Ursula just wanted what was rightly hers. Scar wanted equality among the pride. Gaston just wanted love and Malificent just wanted to be invited to the party. They show Jafar that because they were the ones on the outside their stories got twisted. They got twisted around by the heroes but they aren’t the real bad guys. They are just the ones who lost and their stories were not the ones the victors wanted to tell.

Jafar decides that if he is going to be hated then so be it. He doesn’t care because he will know what he did and why. It only matters what happens in the end. His story will get twisted but he still wants to save his home. This moment was brilliant. Showing us there are two sides to every story, we have to see that those we call villains are just the ones who lost and who did not get their real stories told.

Starkid shows make you laugh, cry and sing out loud. They know exactly how to make a parody show anyone can and will love. They are brilliant parody writers. If you love Disney in anyway you will enjoy this show. All the references and allusions are fantastic. The songs combine classic Disney and show tunes in reworked catchy genius ways. I enjoyed this so much and will definitely buy the DVD once I can. Starkid once again showed why they have such a dedicated following because they are extremely talented geniuses.

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