Friday, July 23, 2010

TRAILS is a winner at Actors Co-op

Stephen Van Dorn, Leslie Spencer and Matt Lutz

The Appalachian Trail is nearly 2,178 miles long, touches fourteen states, and runs from Georgia to Maine. It takes approximately 5 million steps from beginning to end and will challenge many a seasoned hiker more than once along the way. Only a small percentage of hikers that attempt to hike the Trail in its entirety will actually complete the trip.

This is the journey of two friends figuring out the past and finding their way back to each other as they fulfill a past promise to make the hike in the musical TRAILS by Jeff Thomson (music), Jordan Mann (lyrics) and Christy Hall (book). If you love new musicals, you must catch one of the seven remaining performances at Actors Co-op before it closes on August 1st and heads to New York.

The heart of the show is the relationship between Mike (Stephen Van Dorn), Seth (Matt Lutz), and Amy (Leslie Spencer). They bond in childhood when Seth’s mother sees new kid Mike walking home and pulls him into the backyard to play with Seth and Amy. Amy is a bubbling ball of energy, their queen. Seth is Scribbles, the historian who records their adventures in his notebook, and Mike becomes Meathead, the protector of all.

When Amy leaves, the two boys realize they have a common bond. Mike’s mom is gone and Seth’s dad is gone. They talk about what that feels like – like butterflies says Mike… no, like bees buzzing inside of them that won’t go away…it hurts.

The three become inseparable, but as always happens in the process of growing up -things change, secrets develop and the road starts to fork. Through a series of present day scenes on the trail and flashbacks to the threesome’s school days, we begin to piece together their story. There are surprises, a great deal of humor (like the "Mosquito Tango!"), and moments that will make you ache, thanks to bookwriter Christy Hall.

Van Dorn and Lutz bring a simple honesty to their complex relationship. These are roles every actor loves to play…moments of humanity that require great care, and that ask an actor to bravely look within and feel the chasm of loss and regret. They must lay their inner life in front of an audience without apology. It is delicate ground and the pair handles the task beautifully.

Along the trail they meet a number of oddball characters, beginning with three unusual forest rangers (David Atkinson, Rory Patterson and Gina D’Acciaro) who delight in tormenting unsuspecting city hikers. They return periodically, much like a Greek chorus, alternately escalating and easing the tension between the friends.

Each of them also plays a second character later in the story. Patterson is charming as Faith, a bright young woman who befriends Mike and asks him to take her fishing. (Van Dorn has one of his loveliest songs here, “Women and Fish” about the one that got away). Atkinson is wonderful as a wandering drunk running away from a past he didn’t ask for, and D’Acciaro plays up the comedy as Momma Harley, a hippie earth mother who tells Seth that the dead are dead and he’s got to start living.

Jonathan Larson winners Thomson and Mann put their contemporary pop/rock musical sensibilities to good use in TRAILS. Mann’s lyrics reach right in and wrap themselves around your heart while Thomson finds a way to let a musical theme float in the air for full effect. This is a musical with a great future ahead of it.

The workshop production is staged in the round by Heather Chesley, with musical direction by Linda Kerns, choreography by Julie Hall and fight choreography by Rich Marcus. The limited production elements (little or no props, costumes and scenery) actually serve to focus all attention on the actors and their relationships, right where it should be.

Following its Los Angeles run, the musical goes to New York where it will be featured in a full production at the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) in October. Matt Lutz continues there in his role of Seth. Additional casting will be announced at a later date.

Tickets for TRAILS at Actors Co-op are available at

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