Quest for the West: Adventures on the Oregon Trail!
"You won't die of dysentery, but you'll have a grand time." nytheatre.com
"When the travelers arrive at Independence Rock, a notable landmark along their journey, the ensemble number honoring the wagon trains that came before them is surprisingly poignant." Read more of Backstage's review.
CurtainUp calls Quest for the West "a fun show that works well in the Fringe environment".
Quest for the West is featured in Show Business Weekly's article about FringeNYC.
We are one of Martin Denton's "sure thing" picks for the upcoming FringeNYC festival.
nytheatre.com interviews the team.
"One of the most clever new musicals around...a Fringe Fest show that can’t be missed." Show Business Weekly
Matthew Murray writes Quest for the West "stands alone in terms of ingenuity", calling it an "animated good time". Read his Talkin Broadway review here.
Theater in the Now interviews actor Steven Conroy.
We are one of Time Out New York's selected FringeNYC shows!
"Expectations were high...after the success of Quest for the West: Adventures on the Oregon Trail! at last year’s [Capital] Fringe Festival. That Gen-X laugh-riot set a high standard for computer-game inspired musicals, because it played straight to audience nostalgia, and because the New York-based troupe was outstanding."
- Rebecca J. Ritzel, The Washington Post
Reviewed by J. Jordan
February 26, 2011
The Oregon Trail was a computer game created in the 1980s that simulated what life was like in the 1800s and allowed players the opportunity to enjoy adventures out west from the comfort of their own homes. Players were able to choose professions, buy ammunition and provisions, name various family members, and set off in search of a better life, which presumably was in Oregon. To get there, they had to first battle starvation, bandits, deadly rivers, diseases and, in The Oregon Trail: Quest for the West!, a musical version of the game, occasionally each other.
Those familiar with The Oregon Trail game will no doubt be enthralled by this musical, which takes a humorous approach to what was in reality a very scary undertaking with such a small chance of survival that it bordered on absurd. That absurdity is transformed into an hour of musical hilarity thanks to the crew at No.11 Productions. The show is definitely better than the game, as it offers singing, dancing, a possible murder, and, of course, the opportunity for love.
The Oregon Trail: Quest for the West! is interactive, like the game, but in a way that won’t make audience members uncomfortable. As in a choose-your-own-adventure novel, the audience gets to decide things like the occupation of the party’s leader, Jebediah; what method to employ to get the group across a nasty raging river; and, for those lucky enough to be seated in the first three rows, balls to throw at the cast, cattle, deer, and one wily rabbit in an effort to feed the party after their rations run out within the first six days.
Also just like in the game, the party is attacked by thieves and Native Americans, suffers through myriad diseases (all at once, as it happens) and lose their wagon wheels. One of them actually dies, but instead of bringing a somber note to this otherwise hilarious show, it’s really very funny; so funny, in fact, we’d say it is one of the best deaths we’ve ever seen on stage.
Who dies? Well, we can’t tell you that. Does the party ever actually make it to Oregon? We can’t tell you that, either, and it might depend on what the audience decides. What we can tell you is that the show is funny and witty, and the singing is refreshingly good.
John Bambery, who plays the party’s leader Jebediah, has a voice reminiscent of Robert Goulet (but in a good way). Haley Greenstein, who plays his sister, Hope, provides great timing, a real commitment to traipsing around the wilderness in 13 layers of clothing, and that rare glimpse of comedic female talent so often missing from the stage. Julie Congress, who also lends her talents to co-authoring the show’s book and providing fun but believable costumes, is hilarious as a bawdy, gun-wielding, one-eyed sharp shooter who’s looking for love on the trail as much as something to shoot at. Brian Walters, who plays Asdfjkl; (a name constructed by impatience at the keyboard; remember, there was a time when people actually played games on a computer and not an X-Box), Roger Mulligan, and narrator Max Schneller round out the solid cast, all of whom seem game for whatever the audience decides. Ryan Emmons’s directing is engaging and balances pace and structure with letting the actors have fun in their roles. The small stage didn’t feel so small with the way choreographer Nora Beckenstein somehow created more space by using every inch of it!
To be honest, it is apparent that the notion that the audience has control in choosing what happens to the actors is a contrived one, but it’s enjoyable all the same. And, the results can vary, just as the audience score varies after each performance. Sadly, we placed second behind the previous night’s audience. Our guess is they chose not to pay the exorbitantly high toll on the toll road, but who knows.
As mentioned, the costumes are fun and relevant, but the set design just about runs off with the show. It’s amazing what a few simple props can do to transform a little black box theatre into the Western wilderness. The two papier maché oxen are the cutest things we’ve ever seen on stage, and the wagon—complete with wheels, an axle, and a tongue—is functional, cute, and just rickety enough to be funny in its own right.
The sound design and keyboard work by Enrico de Trizio (who is somewhat inexplicably on stage the whole time but also dressed for the time period, even if he is playing a keyboard), with music and lyrics by Rebecca Greenstein and Danny Tieger, are enjoyable and upbeat without overreaching. The book by Julie Congress, director Ryan Emmons, Jen Neads, and Zach Fithian works hard to achieve the level of hilarity for which it is earnestly reaching.
Even if you’re not familiar with The Oregon Trail game you will laugh and have a good time at everything that befalls the quintet. Sure, you might not get some of the inside jokes, like how the characters move and the shooting of a bear, but with such an amiable cast and that fabulous wagon, you won’t miss them.
Reviewed by Lauren Honeycutt
July 9, 2011
When I was in my 8th grade Creative Writing class, all I ever wanted to do was finish my classwork quickly so that I would have time to play my favorite computer game Oregon Trail. Today, after 17 years, I was able to see this game come to life in The Oregon Trail: Quest for the West! In all honesty, this is one of the cleverest new musicals that I have seen in years!
Directed by Ryan Emmons, Oregon Trail tells the story of an optimistic group of adventurers on their way from Missouri to Oregon in 1848, and the best part is that the audience helps to decide which way the story goes! The Narrator (Max Schneller) tells the story of Jebediah (John Bambery) who is a banker from New York (occupation selected by the audience) and is traveling to Oregon to start a new life with his religious sister Hope (Haley Greenstein). Before they begin their journey, the pair meets up with the mysterious Asdfjkl; (Brian Walters), handsome Jesse James II (named by Friday night’s audience and played by Jeff Smith), and spunky gunslinger Rebecca Black (also named by the audience and played by Julie Congress). Along the way, the six travelers meet up with many of the same troubles that plague the players of the original Oregon Trail game: crossing a river, dysentery and extra-long delays due to stubbed toes. Each of the actors is very strong and incredibly funny! Greenstein’s Hope and Schneller’s Narrator are especially entertaining with their expert comedic timing and hilarious facial expressions.
Keyboardist Enrico de Trizio caught the audience’s attention from the first time his fingers hit the keys with his vigorous musical performance. Maura Cordial’s lighting design fit every mood from the bright lights at joyous times to flashing lights during points of crisis. The 19th century Old West costumes designed by Julie Congress perfectly fit the setting, and Prop Designer Jen Neads outdid herself by accessorizing the stage with items originally found in the game (including two adorable fake oxen).
With the book written by Julie Congress, Ryan Emmons, Jen Neads and Zach Fithian, the music written by Rebecca Greenstein and Danny Tieger, and the incidental music created by Steve Goodwin, The Oregon Trail: Quest for the Westis a must-see production at this year’s Fringe Festival. During the show, one of the characters asks, “What do you think this is? A game?” No, this is not a game…it is SO much better than that!
Reviewed by Stephen Tortora-Lee
March 1, 2011
Way, way back before the dawn of the internet, in the days when Microsoft was DOS (not Windows) and PCs were called by their full name (Personal Computers) and learning institutions were oufitted with Apple IIe’s, there was a game that infiltrated homes and schools across America. A game that put you in the role of the leader of a group of interpid pioneers trudging across more than 2,000 miles from Independence, Missouri to the fabled land of Oregon in the year 1848 along the Oregon Trail. The game of Oregon Trail was one of the few educational games true to the claim of being “fun as well as educational” (at least in my school in the 1980′s), and has become extremely popular over the years. So popular that it has insprired a a great new musical by No.11 Productions for the Frigid Festival called Oregon Trail: The Quest For the West!
Personally, I really enjoyed playing the game as well as seeing the musical, but a question I was asked, adds an interesting texture to this discussion, “Do you have to have played the game before in order to enjoy the play?” It definitely helped that by being in the audience I got to relive the joy of playing Oregon Trail in more ways than one, but the play is entertaining and even moving at times in ways that take this now age-old story to whole new heights. Besides, if you wanted to try your hand at the original game it is available to play just like it was back in 1985…
Thanks to the people at virtualapple.com for putting this up so we can play it via a virtual Apple IIe right in our browser. Try it out!
Anyway, hopefully you’ve had a chance to have either refreshed your memory of this piece of your childhood, or see what you were missing, and now I can get to the meat of my review.
Sitting down before the play I was asked if I wanted to name one of the characters (just like in the game!). As the play begins, the audience is prompted as to whether the leader of the party would be a banker, a carpenter, a lamplighter or a farmer (just like in the game!). Later on, if you sit in the first three rows you will get a chance to hunt for food (just like in the game!). All leading up to an audience clap -off to be the virtual arrow keys from days of yore.
In other words a whole lot of interactive fun.
Like the original game, many things are going on in the musical of Oregon Trails: The Quest For the West! Like in the game, the cast works hard to make the show educational as well as entertaining. And like the game, the format of the show strives to be as interactive as possible yet not to overwelm the the audience with too many choices. Finally, like the game, the musical endeavors to make the trip of the covered wagons along the Oregon Trail a human one with colorful characters (now with personality and enjoyable musical numbers instead of 8-bit color versus the original black and white).
There are many things going on in this new musical. It has a great set of production numbers (both ensemble as well as solos and duets), and I’d just love it if No.11 Productions came out with a cast album for this amazing soundtrack. It has interesting characters: a farmer/lamplighter/carpenter/banker named Jebediah (John Bambery) who is our expeditions leader, but with a tragic past that sometimes fuels his Darkness. His sister Hope (Haley Greenstein) is always confident that God will provide and therefore cheers on the crew. The character hilariously named for a finger-roll down the computer keyboard: Asdfjkl; (Brian Walters) is what you would expect – a bit afraid yet willing to pitch in or follow along, to get shot in the leg, whatever is needed to fill in whatever gaps might appear in the expedition. [Character 2] (Julie Congress)who is a draw from a hat became “Funnel Cake”. She is a rootin’ tootin’ cowgirl who thought she wanted to go to New York, but joined her crew to go down the Oregon Trail because it had more Danger. Which she craves continuously. [Character 1] (Roger Mulligan) who our audience dubbed “Dingo” is a farmer who lives in the moment and works hard, becomes a love interest and is always a strong, gentle soul looking forward to “manifest his destiny”.
Speaking of Manifest Destiny, this is a central pillar of the plot arcs of Oregon Trails: The Quest For the West! In the 1840s the phrase meant the idea that “Americans” would extend from one coast to the other in a societal sense. This was facilitated by government programs such as the Donation Land Act of 1850 (which gave government endorsement to the Organic Laws of Oregon which said the same thing on the state level in 1843) which gave settlers 320 acres per married couple or 160 acres per unmarried settler to anyone who made their way out there and then showed improvement to that land they had claimed. What is cleverly done in the play is to change the tense so that each character sings of their own personal quests so they “manifest my destiny” and use the experience of riding the trail as their own Hero’s journey transform themselves, instead of just the aspirations to succeed economically.
The story is simple and so are the rules, the choices make a difference but so does dumb luck (or as Hope would say, God’s Will). So, though experience with the game may help you enjoy the many inside jokes regarding the original game mechanics, this play succeeds in ways the game couldn’t – specifically by connecting us back to the spirit of adventure and progress that the original trail gave those pioneers crossing the country despite hardships and dangers. Ultimately Oregon Trails: The Quest For the West! teaches the lesson that if we persevere the experiences of our journey will help mold us into the people we want to be.