Village Theatre, 303 Front St. N. (Issaquah), 425-392-2202. $22-$63. Runs Wed.–Sun.; see villagetheatre.org for exact schedule. Ends April 21. (Runs in Everett April 26–May 19.)
“How do we tell a story about walking for six months?” asked lyricist Jordan Mann when first presented with the idea for the musical Trails, now receiving its premiere staging at Village Theatre. The creators shrewdly figured out exactly how—by making the show mostly backstory. The hikers are Joshua Carter and Dane Stokinger as Seth and Mike—friends since childhood, now 34—who are walking the Appalachian Trail’s 2,175 miles to put their gradually revealed past behind them. (Kirsten deLohr Helland is the strong-willed Amy, the focal point of that past.) Village Theatre’s workshop process for developing and polishing new musicals ensured that the flashback structure, potentially confusing, never is, and that Christy Hall’s book turned out masterfully paced and dramatically effective, especially as directed by Eric Ankrim. (All the reminiscing, though, also reminds us that adult actors can never, on stage or screen, play children convincingly.)
All I found problematic about the show was Jeff Thomson’s score, which brings in only hints of the roots music you’d expect—most strongly in songs performed by John Patrick Lowrie and Bobbi Kotula, longtime Seattle theater MVPs who over the years have brightened shows I haven’t been crazy about and, in shows I have been crazy about, were among the reasons. With the charming Sarah Rose Davis, they play a Greek chorus and, individually, colorful characters met along the hike.
If you object that Americana would’ve been too easy a choice—well, so is the neo-Stephen Schwartz path taken here instead. I left wondering why a show so rooted in a specific, real place—offering a wealth of possibilities, four magnificently rich centuries of vernacular music—did so little to evoke it. No law says a musical set in Appalachia has to sound Appalachian, but why would you settle on a less-vivid musical style? It’d be like deciding to leave the trail behind and just drive up I-95 instead.