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The Trail To Oregon - Art In Motion

Reviewed by Paul Treasure.

 

As a refreshing change of pace from the plethora of modern musicals based on popular movies, Art in Motion Theatre Company has decided to give us a modern musical based on… a computer game! The Trail to Oregon!, originally produced by StarKid Productions, is a parody of the educational computer game The Oregon Trail.


The music for this production is astoundingly good. Joshua Hollander, as MD, has managed to gather a very strong and very tight band who played with a vibrancy and liveliness that helped to rollick the show along. It is especially nice to get to hear from instruments that are normally banished from the pit, so a huge shout out to Kieran Ridgway on the banjo. With a small cast of six, there was vocally not a weak link amongst them, but Lukas Perez repeatedly hit it out of the park with their impressive belt. There were occasional issues with balancing, as some cast members were drowned out during some of the songs, but by and large, it sounded brilliant.


This production is the latest to embrace the trend of foregoing a traditional set, and instead placing the band at the back of the stage in full view of the audience and playing the show at the front of the stage. In a pitless venue like the Don Russell Performing Arts Centre, this is a very good choice, and the show lends itself quite well to this treatment. The lighting was for the most part effective with some very nice mood states, however the cast unfailingly managed to find the few dark spots onstage and repeatedly position themselves there. Costumes were simple and effective, with the Ox costume, as worn by Riley Merigan, one of the highlights.


The choreography, by Sophie David, came across as very energetic but felt under-rehearsed. There were numerous times when cast were out of time with each other, occasionally leading one to wonder whether a move was deliberately fugued, or just out of step, and why one character was mirroring the moves of the rest of the cast rather than copying.


Lukas Perez, as Mother, and Mathew Leak, as Father, gave us very assured and well-realised characters, the pair of them both have excellent timing and work off each other very well. Brittany Isaia, as Daughter, hampered by the anachronistic addition of a moon boot as part of their costume, does an excellent job under the circumstances, still managing to give us a funny and occasionally poignant portrayal while keeping up with the other cast members. Get better soon, Brittany, you absolute trouper! Verity Lux, as Son, and Max Leunig, as Grandpa, round out the family with spirited and funny performances. Finally, Riley Merigan, as pretty much everyone (and everything) else gives us well-defined characters, especially a mournful and desolate Ox, and regularly threatens (and sometimes succeeds) to steal the show from the other players.


While everyone gave it their best shot, there were a number of issues that could have made the show a lot funnier. Diction was a bit of a problem and a lot of potential funny lines were garbled or lost. Some accents were a bit shaky, with one character using distinctly different accents to sing and speak the same character. But the biggest issue may be that this show is a parody of something that we as an audience are not as familiar with as the people who wrote it, therefore a lot of the jokes and references are going to fly over our heads, and it felt like little effort was put in to understand them and make these more obscure beats land just as well as they would in America.


Overall the show felt like it was just fan service for the StarKid fans in the audience, which is a shame because the show has a lot of potential, and the talent on display on that stage certainly had the ability to mine that potential and give us a show to remember. If you are a StarKid fan, then you are going to absolutely love this production! If you’re not a StarKid fan or don’t even know who StarKid Productions is, then sit back and enjoy what is musically one of the best musicals I have seen in a while.


"The Family", Max Leunig (Grandpa), Brittany Isaia (Daugher), Mathew Leak (Father), Verity Lux (Son) and Lucas Perez (Mother). Photo Credit: Michael Carroll.

Reviewer Note: Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.

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