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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Trails Winds Up a Charmer at Village Theatre

Also see David's review of Next Fall


Dane Stokinger, Kirsten deLohr Helland and Joshua Carter
Village Theatre is justifiably proud of its reputation for developing and fostering new original musicals, and their current main-stage production, Trails, showed up as an entry in the company's festival of new musicals three years back and has undergone some fine-tuning since then. As written, it is an earnest, sometimes awkward and overly simplistic tale (book by Christy Hall, music by Jeff Thomson, and lyrics by Jordan Mann) of life-long friends reuniting in their mid-thirties after more than a decade of separation, as they discover the Appalachian Trail and rediscover their relationship. Flashing back and forth in time in the process, it feels a bit like a rustic Merrily We Roll Along in places, but under the confident direction of Eric Ankrim guiding a stalwart cast of six, Trails winds up a charming evening of theatre, is spite of some bumps in the road.

In their childhood, Seth, Mike and Amy were typical adventuring, fanciful kids, with Amy the Queen, Seth the historian, and Mike the protector. A decade plus after college first separated them, and Mike returns to their hometown for the funeral of Seth's Mother. The pair, with issues to resolve, sets out to hike the Appalachian Trail, two thousand miles between Maine and Georgia. The journey is as rife with memories as it is with new adventures involving a collegiate bride to be, a grizzly drunk of a mountain man, and an Earth Mother hippie type. Though Amy is not physically on the trip with them, her presence and impact on their lives is keenly felt, and key to the resolution of their differences.

Hall's script takes a while to pick up steam in its storytelling, and Mann's lyrics are craftsman-like and occasionally more than that. Both delineate the central trio well enough, and give the actors a chance to show us how they evolved through the years, but it is Thomson's music—hearty, rustic and haunting—that really lends distinction to Trails, including music for the three spirit guides who also take on the subordinate characters.

Director Ankrim understood well the demand for legitimate actor/singers to embody the central trio, and actors Joshua Carter, Dane Stokinger, and Kirsten deLohr Helland handily deliver the goods. Carter's Seth grows from bespectacled nerd of a kid to a dutiful, self-sacrificing adult, and the actor is charming, endearing and sympathetic throughout, delivering his solo "Millions of Reasons" with great tenderness. Stokinger is a perfect fit for the cockily assured Mike and does a knockout job on his featured number "The One That Got Away." And in her most mature leading performance to date, Kirsten deLohr Helland moves seamlessly from boisterous youngster to a compassionate young woman facing the fact that she has reasons to act on romantic feelings for both of her best friends. She soars in her renditions of two stellar numbers from the score, the rowdy "Mark My Words" and the lyrical "Miles of Time," and has strong chemistry with both her leading men.

Sarah Rose Davis is pure charm as Faith, the bride to be, delivering an exultant "The Places in Between," and John Patrick Lowrie is masterfully crusty and rough-hewn as the drunken Virgil, but when it comes to show-stealing, Bobbi Kotula as Mama Harley corners the market on it, and Mann and Thomson give her ample ammunition with the act two showstopper "The Road is My Home." Kotula, Lowrie and Davis also serve the score well as spirit guides who help us keep track of where the hikers are on their journey, and offer wistful musical segues.

Jen Zeyl's scenic design is a handsome encapsulation of the flora and fauna along the trail, warmly lit by lighting designer Robert J. Aguilar, and complemented by Chelsea Blum's outdoorsy costumes. Musical R.J. Tancioco neatly balances the cast's vocals with his fine small band, and Brent Warwick's sound design is exemplary.

Trails runs at Village Theatre in Issaquah through April 21st and then moves to the Everett Performing Arts Center, running April 26th through May 19th. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: John Pai



- David Edward Hughes



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