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They say: An interactive musical comedy about five brave pioneers as they journey westward to fulfill their manifest destiny. Help them on their perilous journey as they sing across uncharted territory — comically crossing dangerous rivers, hunting buffalo, outsmarting thieves and battling dysentery.
Rebecca’s Take: Westward ho, Fringe-goers, theater lovers, Generation X-ers! Fire up the old Commodore 64 and insert your floppy disc. Its 1989 and youve just earned an A on your latest social studies test. As a reward, you and a friend get to sit at that lonely computer in classroom corner and play .
The Oregon Trail!
Never used a Commodore 64? Don’t know DOS? This review is not for you. You can still appreciate this gumption-fueled, nostalgia-powered musical, however. Just laugh along whenever all the 30-somethings do. This is good stuff. Trust us.
Seriously. This is a musical that could travel. Oregon Trail: Quest for the West! is the 4th Fringe show brought to DC by No. 11 Productions, a New York-based coterie of Skidmore College grads and their theatrical friends. Artistic directors Julie Congress and Ryan Emmons cowrote the book based on the computer game; Rebecca Greenstein and Danny Tieger composed original showtunes about manifest destiny, surviving dysentery, plowing greener pastures, etc.
By Fringe standards, the production values are high, and its easy to imagine an extended version of this musical (i.e., one that didnt need to be over in an hour and packed up in 10 minutes) getting picked up off-Broadway. OK, at least off-off Broadway. Arranger Enrico de Trizio mans the keyboards with considerable skill, and the cast works well with what packable sets and paper mache oxen they have.
Packing, you may recall, is how players start the game, stocking up on supplies at the general store in Independence, Mo. Its not 1989, of course, but 1848, and the object of the gameand the musicalis to get your wagon party safely to the Pacific Northwest. Theres audience participation strategically woven into the show, starting with naming two of the five pioneers in the cast. (I typically took along my middle school crush, James Kline, who never asked me out and was always dead of cholera by Walla Walla.) On opening night, the audience-picked monikers were James James II and Rebecca Black.
Ill go with that. Regrettably, fewer than 20 attended the premiere, and this is the sort of show where the more audience members, the merrier. Give the cast credit, especially leads John Bambery as the Conestoga caravan leader who falls off the wagon, and soprano Haley Greenstein, a dead ringer for Sarah Polley, as his pious sister, for feeding off a small but clearly nostalgic crowd.
Theres plenty of humor here thats not tied to the game, but references get the most laughs. When narrator Max Schneller rolls out the rippling blue fabric Gasp! A river! and asks that all important question: Do we ford, float or take the ferry? You may well be rolling over, too.
See it if: You (at least) tolerate musicals and have fond memories of those middle school buffalo hunts.
Skip it if: You failed 6th-grade school social studies, you still prefer Atari, or you cannot imagine Oregon Trail being more fun than Angry Birds.