Ride the Cyclone does what it does exceptionally well.
—Joff Schmidt, CBC Theatre Reviewer
If a bus carrying the cast of Glee and another bus carrying the cast of The Rocky Horror Picture Show crashed into each other in a high-speed highway collision, the result would probably be Ride the Cyclone. And yes, that's a good thing - a very, very good thing.
Ride the Cyclone is a musical filled with contradictions - it's morbid, yet outrageously fun; it's juvenile, but also profound.
The "morbid" is pretty clear from the plot synopsis - our narrator is Karnak, a carnival fortune-telling machine (voiced by Carey Wass, puppeteered by James Insell). He introduces us to the six members of the St. Cassian Chamber Choir - a school group from a dying Saskatchewan mining town called Uranium City.
Ride The Cyclone: A Musical runs at MTC Warehouse till April 6. (MTC)
And it isn't just the town that's dead - the entire choir has met an unfortunate demise on the Cyclone, a malfunctioning roller coaster. Karnak offers the opportunity for one of the kids to come back from the beyond - provided they can explain why they deserve the prize. And so for 95 minutes, our undead heroes literally sing for their lives.
A show with that sort of premise isn't likely to be everyone's cup of tea - and indeed, the ironic, irreverent, and referential tone of Ride the Cyclone
may play best to the under-35 crowd. But Ride the Cyclone
does what it does exceptionally well.
Jacob Richmond (playwright/lyricist/director) and Brooke Maxwell's (composer/lyricist) musical has a few rough spots - some of the writing between songs isn't quite razor-sharp, and it hits a couple of brief lulls along the way. But we're never far from a killer tune in Ride the Cyclone
, and that's where the musical shines.
The lyrics are smart and darkly delicious, and Maxwell's carnival-themed music (performed by a live four-piece band of rats - you'll just have to see the show to find out why) is both sinister and infectiously catchy. And while it probably owes a lot to writers like Kurt Weill and Tom Waits, it also shows a remarkable versatility.
The "bad boy" of the choir, the Polish immigrant Mischa (Jameson Matthew Parker) gets an auto-tuned R&B solo; geeky shy guy Ricky (Elliott Loran) sings a disco-tinged number about space cats.
But everyone gets a show-stopping turn in the spotlight, as the late choristers enact the fantasies they never realized in their short lives: over-achiever Ocean (Rielle Braid) belts out a song about rising to the top; hopeless romantic Noel (Kholby Wardell) sings a killer torch song about his dream of being a drug-addled French prostitute; Jane Doe (Sarah Jane Pelzer), the girl who can't remember her past, has a haunting solo; and "nice girl" Constance (Kelly Hudson) sings a soulful ode to life.
The characters are all types, but the cast throw themselves into the material and find an honest centre in each of their roles that endears them to us. Richmond's production (smartly choreographed and staged by Treena Stubel), which has been touring Canada for the last several months, hums along like a well-oiled machine.
And while Ride the Cyclone
seems like a whirlwind of grim fun and slightly macabre laughs, it concludes with some truly thoughtful meditations on nothing less than the meaning of life - and death.
Teen tragedy has never been this much fun - and comedic musicals are rarely this deep.
Buy the ticket, take the ride.Ride the Cyclone: A Musical runs through April 6 at the MTC Warehouse.