Ride The Cyclone

The original cast of Ride the Cyclone
Credit: Tim Matheson

At the Arts Club Granville Island Stage until February 16

Posted on January 29, 2013

Ride the Cyclone is one sweet ride and there’s no chance you’ll toss your cookies during this ninety-minute, no intermission musical, jointly presented by the Arts Club and the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. You may shed a tear for headless Jane Doe, one of six teenagers killed in a freak accident aboard The Cyclone, a carnival ride, but you’ll laugh at the outrageous future some of the other five had imagined for themselves.

On Monday, September 14, 2009 at 8:17PM six choir members of the St. Cassian Chamber Choir in small-town Uranium, Saskatchewan, boarded the Cyclone and, as predicted by the carnival’s mechanical fortune-teller, The Amazing Karnack, were all hurled into eternity when, “at the apex of loop-de-loop”, the roller coaster flew off the rails. Because Karnak had persuaded them to take the ride, he feels obliged to offer some consolation: one, therefore, will come back to life. Each of the recently deceased will have a chance to make a case for him or herself. But sly Karnack keeps changing the rules, mightily frustrating seventeen-year-old Ocean Rosenberg, the half Catholic, half Jewish, self-appointed leader of the group.

From this point, each of the six takes centre stage to offer reasons – in song and dance – for being the chosen one. Live, onstage music is provided by rat-masked musicians Sebastian Britneff, Andrew Taylor, Kiaran McMillan and Zack Santella. (Karnack will explain the significance of the masks; it’s part of the time-sensitive story.)

Ocean (Rielle Braid) is confident and maintains, as smart, environmentally and politically aware, she could actually make the world a better place. But she has a nasty streak especially when it comes to her so-called BFF, Constance Blackwood (Kelly Hudson) whom she mercilessly slags. Plump Constance didn’t have big plans for herself but she loves her family and her town. She doesn’t want to be dead. Gawky, nerdy Ricky Potts (Elliott Loran) isn’t about to change the world but he really wants to be able to live out his dream to become a kind of interstellar sex object, “Space Age Bachelor Man”. Death at seventeen will thwart the fantasy that gay Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell) has to become a cross-dressing singer/whore in an underground cabaret. In black lingerie, net stockings and stilettos, Wardell absolutely rocks the Arts Club with, “I Want To Be That Fucked Up Girl”. James Matthew Parker is Canadian-Ukrainian Misha Bachinsky, full of “passion and anger” who raps about Chernobyl and rhapsodized about his virtual girlfriend whom he plans to marry. She appears dressed in a white wedding gown and veil in a b/w video projection smiling and twirling, twirling and smiling in a meadow full of flowers. One (of many) of the most beautiful visuals in the show is her image projected on the outspread skirts of Ocean, Constance and Jane as they, dressed as Ukrainian women, dance.

It’s in the character of Jane Doe (Sarah Jane Pelzer) that Ride the Cyclone moves into really fascinating territory. Jane has been decapitated in the accident and has no memory. No one has come forth to claim her body. No one knows who she is. Pelzer plays the character like a china doll with puppet-like gestures. She will tear your heart out when she sings in her clear, sweet soprano, “Will someone tell me who I am?” It’s a cry from the heart that has the audience holding its breath.

Written by Jacob Richmond with music and lyrics by Brooke Maxwell and Richmond, and directed by Britt Small and Richmond, Ride the Cyclone runs the musical gamut from Kurt Weill-ish howl to rap and gospel.

But it’s the sheer exuberance and freshness of this Atomic Vaudeville creation that makes the ride so exhilarating. These are young theatre artists making their own rules, pouring their hearts, dreams and talents into making theatre. Inventive, gutsy, darkly funny and bittersweet, it works. Since the show last played in Vancouver (2011) to sold-out houses, there has been some tweaking – mostly in the narrative which now hangs together better. Ride the Cyclone is a dizzying, delightful trip that leaves you happy to be alive.