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.