12:30 pm EDT, July 14, 2014

‘The Trail to Oregon’ musical review: A new kind of Starkid show

National Lampoons‘ vacations meets everyone’s favorite ’90s computer game in the first of two summer season musicals Team Starkid has playing right now, The Trail to Oregon. Though it’s definitely different in structure and atmosphere from any of their other musicals, The Trail to Oregon is a lot of fun.

The slow-cooking brainchild of Starkid’s Jeff Blim, The Trail to Oregon is based on the Oregon Trail computer game that we all grew up with and loved. The show follows a family of five (two parents, two children, and a grandfather) as they make their way from Missouri to Oregon in 1848. From starvation to bandits to dysentery, the family endures all of these challenges in hopes of a better life in Oregon.

However, the genius of this show is that it’s not only based off of the game’s premise but its structure as well. No two shows will ever be the same this summer because the show requires quite a bit of audience participation. As we entered the theater, we were handed a red raffle ticket and told to put it in the box for whichever character we’d like to see die by the end of the show. The results of these votes then dictated the direction of the end of the show.

As an audience (named “Watchers” by the characters in the play during a few meta moments), we’re also called upon to name individual characters and the family as a whole. In fact, one of the first songs of the musical is all about the responsibility of naming characters and different ways to do so (after your own family, your favorite TV show, etc.). Of course, when given such a responsibility, the naming process gets a bit silly. The character breakdown for the show that we saw was as follows (and no, we’re not going to say which characters were played by which actors because it’s more fun to find out while watching!):

  • Father: Albert Hitchcock (You read that right. Albert, not Alfred.)
  • Mother: Dorkis
  • Daughter: Buffy
  • Son: Hoebag (which the actors eventually accidentally transformed into “Hosebag”)
  • Grandpa: Dick Bud
  • The family name: The Potheads

(If you’re interested in finding out what the names were for other shows, Team Starkid tweets them out after every Trail to Oregon show!)

One of the most impressive aspects of The Trail to Oregon is the fact that there are only six Starkids in the cast and each of them plays multiple characters throughout the show. The cast consists of Jeff Blim, Rachael Soglin, Jaime Lyn Beatty, Lauren Lopez, Corey Dorris, and Joey Richter. While they all were great in their respective roles, we have to say that Joey Richter was the definite MVP for us. We won’t give away what his roles were in the show (because there were quite a few), but we will say that we loved how this show really demonstrated the kind of range that he has as an actor.

We’re not sure if it was intentional (but knowing Team Starkid, we have a feeling that it was), but we loved how the family in The Trail to Oregon functioned in a way that was reminiscent of the National Lampoons vacation movies starring Chevy Chase. One of the running jokes was the father saying “That’s what this trip is all about” in reference to some of the most ridiculous things.

Starkid Trail to Oregon ticketsAs expected, the musical made its fair share of references to details of the computer game. There were jokes about broken axles and hunting, as well as the “speed run.” There were even a few historical references thrown into the play. Our personal favorite was about how the Father wanted their trip to be as fun as the Donner party’s. While we do think that that joke went over a lot of the audience’s head, we couldn’t help but bust up laughing in our seat.

Unlike the majority of the other Team Starkid musicals, the second act of The Trail to Oregon was undoubtedly the strongest. It definitely evoked the most laughs, most ending with sore abs. The last two scenes of the musical are not to be missed as they were the most side-splittingly hilarious. They both relied on physical gags (one because of dysentery of course) which we’re not normally as impressed by, but these were especially funny.

Quick note about the show’s songs: We definitely need to watch the show again to evaluate them, but our immediate impression of them is that they were just okay. The final song of the show is probably the catchiest and was stuck in our heads for a while. The rest of the songs, while impressive, aren’t as memorable as songs in other Starkid shows. But with all of the jokes and the way that Trail to Oregon is structured, they really don’t need to be. However, we loved how the music had a sort of western/funk/pop sound. The layers were really interesting to listen to.

The Trail to Oregon is another must-see Team Starkid production. Even those who are unfamiliar with the Oregon Trail game will thoroughly enjoy themselves and laugh at all of the ridiculous situations. While it’s a bit different from the rest and has its slow moments, it’s a great addition to their repertoire and we can’t wait for you to see the one version of it that’s bound to hit YouTube!

Team Starkid’s summer season runs through the beginning of August at Stage 773 in Chicago. While you can no longer buy season passes, you can still purchase regular tickets to some of the remaining shows.

Be on the lookout for our review of Team Starkid’s Ani: A Parody coming next week (with a possible overview of their late night programming after that!).

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