Every year at the Minnesota Fringe Festival, it’s often—correctly—observed, there are bound to be one or more shows that take some appealing pop culture trope and slap “the musical” on it. Some of these are good, and some aren’t, but Oregon Trail: A Musical is absolutely fantastic. I laughed my way through the entire show, a winning romp through westward expansion as we’ve experienced it in school computer labs.
Kyle DeGoey, who wrote both the music and the book, nicely balances gags based on the Minnesota-made educational computer game with the development of comic characters played by an energetic, appealing cast. Led by the stolid, infinitely optimistic Bob (Nels Urtel), a group of pioneers including the fracture-prone Julie (Aleksandra Sobic), the hallucinating Carolyn (Lizzie Rainville), the hapless Frank (Taylor Wegner), and the aptly named ASDLJFK (Sarah Frazier) set out from Independence, Missouri to roll, caulk, and shoot their way to Oregon. Along the way, they have to deal with the picky trader Jen (Sara Gorman) and the jealous bandit Joe (Travis Carpenter).
From hunting bear to repairing wagon wheels, the Oregon Trail team have a lot of fun with their well-designed props. The music is actually good—though, happily, not overly ambitious, with drummer DeGoey and pianist Lindsay Fallenstein providing sturdy accompaniment—and all the jokes are pushed to just the right level of absurdity.
There’s a sizable older contingent at the Fringe—both among performers and attendees—but it was a happily buzzing (and, possibly, buzzed) crowd of millennials who packed Mixed Blood Theatre on Saturday night for a show that earned one booming laugh after another. It’s exciting to see theater done well and connecting with its audience, and anyone who ever fought their way through the amusingly simplified frontier adventure of Oregon Trail will have a hell of a great time at this exuberant show.