In “Trails,” a journey of a million steps begins with a song — “Hymn to Walking.”
Sung by three staff-carrying mountain oracles, it establishes the earnest, portentous tone of this new musical having its world premiere at Village Theatre.
The program notes that lyricist Jordan Mann’s first response to the concept of a show about hiking the Appalachian Trail was, “How do we tell a story about walking for six months?”
It turns out “Trails” is less about hiking, and more about brooding over the past, trying to repair a broken friendship and communing with fellow travelers doling out woodsy lore and uplifting New Age-y advice.
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En route there’s some lovely music in Jeff Thomson’s score and a sterling cast of singer-actors. On Jen Zeyl’s inert but imposing set of a rocky, mountainous path, beautifully lit by Robert Aguilar, the staging by director Eric Ankrim is surprisingly lively.
But Christy Hall’s script and Mann’s lyrics pack in pop-psychology homilies about blazing your trail, going for your dream, healing from loss. And the self-absorbed, one-dimensional characters delivering them aren’t the most scintillating travel companions.
The Appalachian Trail is reportedly 2,175 miles long, winding through majestic wilderness from Georgia to Maine. Physically challenging, the trek can also be a profound retreat from the stresses of modern life.
Long-estranged childhood pals Mike (Dane Stokinger) and Seth (Joshua Carter), in early midlife crisis (they’re 34), impetuously strap on packs and go for it. But they’re often sidetracked by flashbacks featuring Amy (Kirsten deLohr Helland), the spunky girl who has inspired them (in go-for-it songs like “Blaze a Trail” and “Run, Run, Run”) and come between them.
“Trails” is a love triangle crossed with a generic buddy road trip. Bickering opposites (an underachiever nice guy, a cocky lawyer) trudge along together, but minus the usual gags and laughs. In lieu of forest adventures (animal encounters, rock slides) there are navel-gazing back stories and wishful dreams.
Thinking, feeling, mourning are not usually the stuff of dynamic musical theater. And a melodramatic plot twist or two doesn’t add much momentum.
The sparkling harmonies and several fetching melodies (the standout “Miles of Time”) in Thomson’s pop-light score brighten up the shorter Act 2 somewhat.
Carter and Stokinger contribute ringing vocals, as does Lohr — after the screechy little Amy grows into the less-strident older Amy.
Bobbi Kotula adds red-hot-mama verve with the bluesy “The Road is My Home.” And Sarah Rose Davis and John Patrick Lowrie bring robust voices to less impressive tunes.
“Trails” is billed as “a new work in development.” It may undergo changes in Village’s Issaquah and Everett runs, and the road ahead looks rocky without them.
Misha Berson: firstname.lastname@example.org