From the Street Theatre Company

Nashville’s Trail to Oregon!

Before I can get to the performance by Nashville’s Street Theatre Company, we must first discuss the subject of the parody, and the creators of this musical. First, The Oregon Trail games are much older than I had realized; in my solipsism, I’d assumed the game started and ended on CD in the 1990’s, but it originated as a game for kids in 1971 (on the HP 2100 minicomputer, which used teletype instead of a screen), and I can download the latest version to my phone today. The point of the game is to teach children how difficult the Oregon Trail was for its travelers. Different versions of the game differ, but after choosing the supplies for the journey and making tough choices on the trail, players meet with many misfortunes (unexpected or due to poor judgment) as they try to reach their goal. Death occurs frequently. Growing up, we never owned the game, but one of our friends did. It’s rather a meme now, and I’ve played the board game adaptation with friends and had a good time.

StarKid Productions (also known as Team StarKid) started at the University of Michigan in 2009, when their YouTube post of A Very Potter Musical went viral. Since then they’ve produced 13 musicals (parodies and originals), have featured in the top 10 on Billboard charts, and have gained hundreds of millions of views. My introduction to them was through a group chat on a Monday morning, when someone posted this clip:, from their musical Firebringer. In 2014, StarKid Productions created a musical parody of The Oregon Trail, called Trail to Oregon! which is available to view on YouTube: The Trail to Oregon!. After seeing the Street Theatre performance I watched and compared different sections of the musical with the original video, and I have to say I think the Nashville performance is funnier and reflects the original game better. I may be biased because I saw it first, but I think they added more humor. In one deliberately heartless scene, the son kills a family of buffaloes. The lisping baby buffalo can’t walk very well, and in Street Theatre’s production the actor Elijah Wallace adds a new layer chaotic humor by making the baby buffalo’s babytalk ridiculously sensual. Besides additional jokes, I mainly prefer this cast’s interpretations of the characters, too: they’re all a little kinder to each other, a little more equal in their goofiness. Street Theatre didn’t simply mimic the popular video of the play, they performed their own quality interpretation.

The Full Cast, photo by Andrew Morton

Trail to Oregon! follows a family: Father, Mother, Grandpa, Daughter, and Son, all of whom the audience names at the beginning of the performance. Besides being fun at the time, each name is an opportunity for additional humor later on: the line, “That’s my son, [son’s name], the baby killer,” was made into a punchline after the audience named him “Plan B.” The family buys supplies, meets a bandit, and begins their journey, meeting the challenges of environment, equipment, hunting (there’s the excellent line from Grandpa as he takes the kids out to hunt: “You shot me, that means your turn’s over.”), snakebites, kidnappings, and more. Since the musical is a parody, it doesn’t have a tight plotline, but focuses more on joking about the familiar elements of the game. This show is about being silly, and it does that very well. The only time that it gets to be too much is for a moment at the end, when the character the audience voted for dies of dysentery, and their dying song is accompanied by the sounds of viscerally unpleasant flatulence for far too long.

Elijah Wallace as the Bandit, photo by Andrew Morton

The acting is great, and so is the singing. Benjamin Frieson makes the ridiculously optimistic father charming, and Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva makes the bandit’s sidekick disproportionately funny in relation to how many lines the character has. My favorite is Elijah Wallace, who plays the greatest variety of roles, from the baby buffalo to the villainous bandit. Eve Petty plays the daughter, whose teenage sensuality is especially well done, balancing naivete with readiness.

Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva as Grandpa, photo by Andrew Morton

The set does an excellent job of showing the video game inspiration: the backdrop is painted into a pixilated backdrop of scenery from the Oregon Trail, and six large wooden boxes are moved around the stage to create the furnishings, as well as housing items under their lids, and the puppets used to perform the buffalo parents are a great touch. 

This was my first experience with the Street Theatre Company. They perform at the Barbershop Theater, which is a small building off a gentrifying street not too far from the Darkhorse Theater. Street parking is readily available and the building is quite simple: step in through the front door and you’re in the black box theater, the diagonal of the stage pointing at you, and rows of well-cushioned seats are available along both sides of the diagonal, seating about 40 people. A small concession stand is right by the entrance, and the only downside of the space is that it has one single-stall bathroom, and during intermission the actors have it for a portion of the time. Hydrate accordingly. Due to limited space, the live band is in a building behind the theater and they pipe in and mix the sound. I thought they performed to a mysteriously good recording until Taryn Pray (the Son, “Plan B”) explained how they managed it.

I would tell you to buy tickets for this show, except I can’t: it’s entirely sold out. Street Theatre Company’s final show of the season will be Fun Home in June, and next season’s shows are already announced:

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