I saw Ride the Cyclone last weekend in a preview show. I wanted to watch it again before writing it up, but I also wanted to post fast to encourage other people to see it if it sounds like their kind of thing. So I’ll make some notes now, but also figure out whether the budget and the calendar can manage seeing it again later in the run.
By that you can conclude that I liked it, but that it wasn’t simple.
Ride the Cyclone is a new musical, by the company Atomic Vaudeville out of Victoria BC. It’s written by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, and directed by Britt Small and Jacob Richmond. The premise is that six teenage members of a school choir have been killed in a rollercoaster accident just before the show starts. The characters are actually dead, but they each get to sing in a competition to win a fresh start. These six songs, plus conversations in between and some other ensemble numbers, make up a fast-paced 90-minute show. One of the most fun things about the show is the wide variation in genre of the songs, with accompanying dance, costume-changes, and props, from gangsta rap to Ukrainian folkdance. I’m pretty sure that if I was more intimately familiar with the canon of musical theatre I might have picked out homages to lots of styles, writers, or specific shows – as it was, I was giggling away at the part that reminded me of Tim Curry in Rocky Horror (Picture) Show, and was touched by the bits that reminded me of “Journey to the Heaviside Layer” in Cats.
The writing and the actors were good at making the characters different from one another and all interesting. Shortcut characterizations were apparent from the start: the gay boy (Kholby Wardell), the would-be gangsta (Jameson Matthew Parker), the kid with elbow crutches (Elliott Loran), the fat sidekick (Kelly Hudson), the perky achiever (Rielle Braid), and the mystery Jane Doe (Sarah Jane Pelzer), each wearing Catholic-school uniforms but instantly distinguishable in how they wore them. But as the show progressed, each of the characters became more interesting and likeable and the ways they reacted to each other also changed. The main reason I don’t watch the TV show Glee (despite the fun music) is that when I did watch I found the characters flat and predictable, fitting various stereotypes about teenagers and teachers that I don’t find either true or helpful. But even within the limitations of a short musical performance, I thought these six characters became real and intriguing. Kelly Hudson’s song made me cry. Sarah Jane Pelzer’s performance as Jane Doe, the girl nobody remembered, was enhanced by a fascinatingly awkward physicality – nothing as obvious as a limp, but just a sense from her walk and gestures that she wasn’t quite connected to her body.
The narrative says interesting things about the trope of every kid being somehow a misfit with his or her own troubles, but it also shows some of the complexity behind the trope of growing up in a dead-end town.
A seventh character, represented by Carey Wass in voice and James Insell in puppetry, was the carnival fortune-telling machine who acted as the sort of MC for the show.
A four-piece musical ensemble accompanied them and contributed to the moods and the exploration of musical genres. In the first few songs the music was a bit too loud for me to hear the lyrics, but this problem was corrected later. There were also some video bits, most notable of which was projected not onto a backdrop screen but onto a white circular folkloric skirt extended by the character who was wearing it.
Ride the Cyclone is playing at the Maclab Theatre in the Citadel until March 10th. Tickets are available through the Citadel box office.