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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘The Trail To Oregon!’

This week, No Refund Theatre (NRT) continued its fall slate of shows with its presentation of “The Trail to Oregon!” Students can catch a showing beginning Thursday, October 19, to Saturday, October 21.

Originally produced as a book written by Jeff Bilm, Matt Lang, and Nick Lang, “The Trail to Oregon!” is an off-Broadway musical written by Jeff Blim and directed by Lexi Dauley with music direction from Sam Wong. The musical parodies the video game series “The Oregon Trail,” where characters experience the challenges associated with navigating across the country with limited technology and resources in a hilarious and carefree way.

In the show, audience members are also active participants in the storyline, including picking characters’ names by shouting out loud, and deciding which character dies in one of the show’s final scenes.

The story follows a family, the father, named “Depressed” for this showing, introduces his wife, “Boys Night,” teenage daughter, seven-year-old son, and father-in-law as they make the journey to Oregon, promising a fun and educational experience for the kids. The group begins their cross-country adventure in Independence, Missouri, where the family’s trip commences with being swindled by a storekeeper to purchase a damaged wagon and deformed ox for an outrageous price.

Along the way, the family experiences a marital breakdown, inter-family dysfunction, the wilderness, and dysentery, all of which the characters explore in a nonchalant and humor-packed way. As they reach closer to the Oregon line, the family bonds together and recognizes the value of relying on each other during their journey westward, including realizing a dream of going skinny dipping. All of this and more is wrapped together in unserious songs, crude humor, and tomfoolery for the audience to enjoy.

For Dauley, the show’s director, selecting “The Trail to Oregon!” as a part of NRT’s fall catalog was something she kept in her back pocket for a future show.

“I’ve known the show for a long time,” Dauley said. “I discovered it in eighth grade. I remember dying the first time I watched it because it was so funny,” she said.

“I knew I wanted to direct a musical… I thought about what show should I direct, and I remembered this show, and this show is what made me fall in love with the idea of having a group of friends to perform with… It’s kind of like a little love letter to NRT,” she continued.

When discussing the challenges associated with rehearsing without set character names or an ending, Dauley explained the excitement and challenge it provided.

“[Having unknown names] was really fun because we had a document with a bunch of names on it, just like really stupid stuff, and during each rehearsal, we’d start by picking names…and [the cast would] have to get used to remembering them all. For the endings, we had a specific ‘ending day,’ and we’ve been practicing them one-on-one for a while.”

With her vision of NRT performing “The Trail to Oregon!” fulfilled, Dauley was left to select a cast that would help bring her vision to the stage.

“For each character, I really wanted something pretty specific because each character has their own personality, despite it being a very silly show, they’re still characters,” Dauley said. “We went into the audition room, people did their songs, and if I saw they had a certain personality or voice I thought matched we gave them callbacks.”

In NRT’s production, senior Michael Hall plays the role of Father, a bright and animated character who is dragged through family crises and tests of loyalty.

“I am a very expressive person naturally, maybe not as expressive as I am in the show, but it’s easy to draw from that and blow it up to 900, and then you get the silly and craziness,” Hall explained.

“When I saw the shows for this season, I looked up ‘Trail to Oregon!’ watched it, and fell in love with, not only the show but the Father,” Hall continued. “The character himself is so ‘me,’ and all the songs he sings are so silly and so fun. I knew I wanted to be the Father, and…luckily it worked out the way that it did.”

Like director Dauley, Hall also touched on a favorable relationship he has with the show’s audience-directed components.

“I love that aspect of the show so much that there are multiple ways that the show can end. It is hard to remember not only multiple endings but [also] remembering everyone’s name, which changes every single night,” Hall said. “I love it because it adds a whole different aspect to the show that others don’t have.”

Senior Ella Bradner plays Mother in the show where her character is often pitted against her husband and tasked with preserving the family dynamic.

When talking about the comedy elements in the show, Bradner shared how with a cast and script that is so effortlessly funny, staying in character can be a challenge.

“Something that I was told at a very young age is ‘you don’t break on stage if you take it so seriously,'” Bradner said.

“This show was really funny because the actors have to take it so seriously in order not to laugh, and it’s so hard because it’s the stupidest show in the entire world,” Bradner continued. “It’s very, very hard not to break on stage because I love all these people, and they’re my best friends so they make me laugh even when we’re not on stage.”

In finding her inspiration for auditioning and the Mother role, Bradner explained that her passion came from a love of StarKid and the show itself.

“I didn’t have a desired role, but… I had a huge StarKid phase my entire life…and ‘The Trail to Oregon!’ is one of my favorite shows they’ve ever had,” Bradner said.

I did end up auditioning for the mother, as a senior I felt like that was the most fitting role for me in this show at this point in my life,” she continued.

For Bradner, taking on the role of Mother, a character that takes a more serious presence in the show, was a way for her to try something new.

“When I was younger, I connected with the son. Most of the shows I’ve done with NRT have been comedies… I’ve played comedic roles my entire life, so I wanted to try something different with the mother because she doesn’t carry the comedy in this show,” Bradner said. “I felt like it was more of a challenge for me, while also doing this show that I’ve loved for eight years.”

With a large degree of improvisation and memory from the show’s audience-directed components, Bradner took a different take from her fellow cast on how she feels about the show’s ending.

“For me, I feel like learning each ending was a little bit of a challenge because each person does it so differently,” she said. “You have a different reaction to every [ending] and a different relationship to each member of the family. Overall, though, work doesn’t feel like work when you’re having fun with the people you’re doing it with.”

Three performances of “The Trail to Oregon!” will be offered throughout the week and weekend. The first show begins at 9 p.m. on Thursday, October 19, with two additional shows at 8 p.m. on October 20 and 21. All showings will be held in Forum 111. 

No Refund Theatre offers all of its shows free of charge to anyone interested in attending.

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About the Author

Luke Pieczynski

Luke is a sophomore DUS premajor hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, and is one of Onward State's social media editors. He can often be found in the Starbucks line waiting for a nitro cold brew, or listening to one of Dua Lipa's latest releases. He's a fiercely loyal Sheetz Freak and will not settle for another Pennsylvania gas station. Please send your best political thriller to him on Twitter @lukepie11 or to his email [email protected].

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