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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 29, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 13
Happy Trails - Village Theatre's new mini-musical is worth the hike to Suburbia
Arts & Entertainment
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Happy Trails - Village Theatre's new mini-musical is worth the hike to Suburbia

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

TRAILS VILLAGE THEATRE Through April 21 (Issaquah) April 26 - May 19 (Everett)

Village Theatre has a wonderful musical development process that includes a nationally recognized summer festival every year where hundreds of musicals vie for one of the six spots. Some of the more well-developed draft musicals have been chosen for subsequent main stage production and the latest of those is Trails, with a book by Christy Hall, music by Jeff Thomson, and lyrics by Jordan Mann.

This is a kind of "pocket musical" with only six actors and an intimate, personal story. It's different in many ways from what you might be used to. There isn't a big dance number in sight. Three actors are ensemble and narrators, helping move the action along and becoming incidental characters who meet along a journey of the Appalachian Trail.

The main story focuses on a trio of childhood friends, growing up together from grade school until they go off to college. The script details their close feelings and experiences while bouncing backward and forward through time.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID The audience actually has to engage and bring their attentiveness and ability to suspend disbelief, since they are called upon to help imagine that the characters are actively walking along a 2,000-mile trail for several months. The set design by Jennifer Zeyl helps immensely, as does the deft direction of Eric Ankrim and subtle lighting of Robert J. Aguilar, and projections that create shifts in visual cues, allowing us to feel we're at a new point in the journey. Also, since the action bounces in time, audience members must work a bit to orient as to where in time the characters have landed.

That can be a plus, actively pulling us into the story and the lives of the three young friends. There is a bit of a mystery or confusion in the story and an unfolding of deeply buried personal secrets. Seth (Joshua Carter) and Mike (Dane Stokinger) begin an unexpected journey along the Appalachian Trail after Seth's mom succumbs to cancer. It's a wish fulfillment that started way back in childhood. Along on the journey is their friend Amy (Kirsten deLohr Helland), who dubs Seth the "scribe," Mike the "protector," and herself the "Queen/Captain."

Amy is the idea person, the joy-of-life guide, and the keeper of the flame for all of them. Naturally, they both fall in love with her. Seth, it turns out, is the big giver-upper. He moves aside for his friend Mike, who gains Amy's attention first as a love interest. Seth also gives up going away to college in order to stay by his ailing mother's side. In fact, he's too good to be true, though when he sings a song about why he's made these choices ("Millions of Reasons"), it just about breaks your heart. All three leads are outstanding.

When Mike comes back to town for the funeral, he convinces Seth that finally it's time to leave town for a while. When they hike the trail, they meet a few characters along the way, played by Sarah Rose Davis, John Patrick Lowrie, and Bobbi Kotula.

SOLID SUPPORT The trio of ensemble "Greek chorus" folk works well, giving us factual information about the real Appalachian Trail and joining their terrific singing voices in some background support. Each of them gets a standout solo song, as well, though one of those songs ("Purgatory") is strange and discomfiting. Lowrie sings the hell out of it, though. Kotula does her usual steal-the-show delivery during her solo, "The Road Is My Home," and Davis sings "cute" as a newly engaged life-lover. I'm not in love with those dropped-in characters, though. They seem too patly placed and clich├ęd as solvers of the friends' issues.

Costumes by Chelsea Blum were terrific, with their subtle changes from flashback to current. Music director R.J. Tancioco was likewise pleasingly subtle in his musical accompaniment, allowing the singers to soar over the music so that every word of the songs was heard.

It's new, it's different, and it's a worthwhile journey. For more information, go to www.villagetheatre.org or call (425) 392-2202.

Discuss your opinion with sgncritic@gmail.com or go to www.facebook.com/SeattleTheaterWriters.

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