Posts Tagged ‘ride the cyclone’

Ride the Cyclone
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell
Directed by Justin Been
Choreographed by Michael Hodges
Stray Dog Theatre
December 2, 2022

Riley Dunn, Grace Langford, Eileen Engel, Mike Hodges, Dawn Schmid, Stephen Henley
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

When Stray Dog Theatre originally announced this season a while back, I was unfamiliar with Ride the Cyclone. Since then, over the past year, I’ve seen it mentioned quite a bit in theatre fan spaces online. Although it’s never had a Broadway run (yet), this quirky Canadian musical has developed a fairly large cult following, so I read more about it and was looking forward to seeing SDT’s production to see what all the enthusiasm was about. After seeing the show, I’m pleased to say that for the most part, it lives up to the hype. With the great cast that SDT has assembled, along with excellent production values, it’s a little show with a memorable score and a compelling story.

Ride the Cyclone has a fairly familiar general setup, in a broad sense, that has been used in several other musicals, such as Cats and another recent SDT show, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Several characters tell their stories, with one of them selected to win a “prize” of some sort at the end.  Here, the characters are teenagers from a Canadian high school choir who recently were killed in a roller coaster accident at a traveling carnival, and they are “competing” for a second chance at life. The host for the event is The Amazing Karnak (billed “As Himself” in the program), a carnival fortune telling machine that has the mysterious ability to predict the exact day of a person’s death, including his own. Karnak has assembled the five choir members and a mysterious sixth teen only known as “Jane Doe” (Dawn Schmid) to plead their cases and then vote for which one should be brought back to life. The characters are a varied collection of personalities, from chronic overachiever Ocean (Eileen Engel) to her professed BFF and “nicest girl in school” Constance (Grace Langford), to the theatrical Noel (Mike Hodges), who laments being seemingly the only gay teen in his small town. We also meet Misha (Riley Dunn), an aspiring rapper who is originally from the Ukraine and who pines for his online fiancée; and Ricky (Stephen Henley), who was somewhat isolated due to a degenerative illness and constructed an elaborate imaginary adventure for himself in his head. These five–along with Jane Doe, who was unidentified after the crash and doesn’t remember her life–each get their solo moments to state their cases, or for the most part, simply to tell everyone else who they were. Most of the “campaigning” comes from Ocean, who sees herself as the obvious candidate for a second chance. The interactions between the characters are the center of the story, along with their strikingly staged musical moments–ranging from the more straightforward (Ocean’s “What the World Needs) to the elaborate (“Noel’s Lament” and Ricky’s “Space Age Bachelor Man” to the more melancholy and/or haunting numbers like Misha’s ode to his far-away fiancée “Talia” and the memorable “Ballad of Jane Doe”, to Constance’s cathartic “Jawbreaker/Sugarcloud”.  

The tone of the show is darkly comic, for the most part, with some poignant moments of drama thrown in. There’s an overall eerie quality set by Jane’s haunting “Dream of Life” from the very beginning, and that mood shapes much of the proceedings even at their most comic. I see why this has such a following, especially among teens and young adults, since there’s a lot here with which to relate in terms of growing up and figuring out one’s purpose in life, even here where we are already told most of the characters won’t be continuing in the land of the living. There’s a sense of “what could have been” that lingers in the air, adding weight to the stakes, as well as providing cause for personal reflection for the audience. 

All of the performers are ideally cast, giving top-notch performances with excellent characterization and vocals. The ensemble chemistry is essential in a show like this, and that’s on display here in a big way. It’s hard to single anyone out, because everyone fits their roles so well. Still, for me the biggest standouts are Schmid with her strong vocals and otherworldly and melancholy portrayal; and Langford as the “nice girl” Constance who is keeping a secret, and eventually and dramatically reveals it. Everyone is great though, and the staging is also memorable with some fun choreography by Hodges and some hilarious production numbers–most notably from Henley and Hodges in their characters’ big moments. 

The production values are truly spectacular, especially from a smaller theatre company without an enormous budget. SDT pulls out all the stops, with a mood-setting, detailed set by Josh Smith, spectacular costumes by Engel, dazzling lighting by Tyler Duenow, and superb projections by director Justin Been that contribute to some of the shows more intensely poignant moments. There’s also a great on-stage band led by music director Leah Schultz, providing strong musical accompaniment to the story and the singers.

Ride the Cyclone might be a show that has flown under your radar, but I would highly recommend checking out this production. It’s a thought-provoking story with a memorable score and some striking visuals, as well as providing a showcase for a truly excellent cast. Especially if you’re into more quirky, off-beat shows with a bit of an edge, this is one not to be missed. 

Grace Langford, Riley Dunn, Mike Hodges, Dawn Schmid, Eileen Engel, Stephen Henley
Photo by John Lamb
Stray Dog Theatre

Stray Dog Theatre is presenting Ride the Cyclone at Tower Grove Abbey until December 17, 2022

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