Trails: A Review

By Christopher Heide

TRAILS is a visually splendid, lyrically beautiful and thematically resonating new musical currently playing at the Issaquah Village Theatre. A masterful production, it seamlessly blends contemporary themes of love, loss and the pursuit of the impossible into an empathetically entertaining tear-jerker that easily purports a bombastic, awe-inspiring journey. While featuring only six cast members, TRAILS feels like a large-scale musical that is instantly ready for Broadway. Impressively, it is a must see, original production for any fan of the true musical.

Village Theatre’s commitment to nurturing new musicals continues with the world premiere of TRAILS, which opened March 14, 2013 at the Issaquah theatre. This musical expedition had its first reading in 2011 as part of Village Theatre’s Festival of New Musicals; now, Village Theatre has launched a full scale production.

With dozens of new songs and a newly constructed mountain-sized set (quite literally, it’s a man-made mini-mountain!) Village Theatre is embracing the spirit of adventure that encompasses all aspects of the show. Stepping away from Broadway’s current tendency toward movie adaptations (Flashdance, Elf) or jukebox musicals (American Idiot) TRAILS is a traditional book musical in a nontraditional outdoor setting along the Appalachian Trail. Musically and lyrically, it is comparable to beloved musical Rent, as the book is filled with many moments intended to elicit a deep emotional response from its audience. With songs entitled "Blaze a Trail", "Keep on Moving" and "The One That Got Away", you'd practically have to be a stone-cold sociopath to not find a personal connection to this evocative journey.

Two childhood friends, now in their 30s, are about to drop everything to fulfill a promise and embark upon the journey of a lifetime: a 2,175-mile trek from Georgia to Maine along the Appalachian Trail. But this particular path is going to test more than just their stamina. As the challenges of the trail become increasingly difficult, ghosts from the past haunt their steps, and the woman they both cherish brings back long-kept secrets.

The TRAILS cast members include: Dane Stokinger (Mike), Joshua Carter (Seth), Kirsten deLohr Helland (Amy), John Patrick Lowrie, Bobbi Kotula and Sarah Rose Davis. It is directed by Eric Ankrim and R.J. Tancioco is the music director. Jen Zeyl, Robert Aguilar, Chelsea Blum and Brent Warwick are the set, lighting, costume and sound designers (respectively).

While all of the cast members masterfully interject the soaring lyrics and vocally dynamic book with urgency, relevance and deep emotion, Helland is a particularly strong standout and steals nearly every scene that she is in. With a booming voice, and superb comedic timing, she is a rising star to watch. In fact, the show incorporates many flashbacks, requiring the actors to instantly transition into younger forms of their characters. Again, Helland impressively creates tremendous realism through the various form of her character.

Overall, TRAILS is about as perfect as any new, original production could be. Without spoiling its many twists and turns, it would have been more impacting for TRAILS to thematically come more full-circle in its final moments. Mirroring the nearly impossibly journey depicted in TRAILS, The three creators, Christy Hall (book), Jordan Mann (lyrics), Jeff Thomson (music), have completed a nearly insurmountable task: an award-worthy creation that will surely be around for years to come.

Issaquah Run: March 14 – April 21, 2013 Everett Run: April 26 – May 19, 2013