Ride the Cyclone – The Musical

Life After Death?

Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Tweed & Co. Theatre continues to grow, now offering performances in two venues: The Marble Arts Centre just north of Tweed and The Village Playhouse in Bancroft. Their season has just opened with the regional premiere of a relatively new musical Ride the Cyclone.

This quirky one-act show had its world premiere in Victoria, British Columbia at Atomic Vaudeville in 2008. A production played at the Theatre Passe Muraille, Toronto in 2011, followed by a tour of Western Canada in 2013. From there, it went to Chicago, then had a stint off-Broadway in 2016. After that it toured a few American cities, going dormant when Covid hit. Finally it has been made available for regional theatre, and Tweed & Co. was able to obtain it! It’s now playing at the Tweed location and then moves to Bancroft next week.

The story is tragic, but there are laughs along the way, and it all leads to a strange but satisfying conclusion. St. Cassian High School chamber choir of Uranium City, Saskatchewan goes on a trip to compete in a music festival. The group stops to take in a fair, with many of them deciding to go on the Cyclone, a roller-coaster ride. Unfortunately, the roller-coaster leaves the tracks and all those aboard perish. The plot unfolds as the teenagers are in limbo – dead but not yet in heaven or hell. A mechanical fortune teller named Karnak first predicts his own death (a rat named Virgil will chew one of his wires and both he and the rat will die) and then tells the choir members that one of them will be brought back to life. Karnak changes the criteria for deciding who gets to live as the story moves along, and that’s all I can say without spoiling the plot. The six main characters each make a presentation about themselves in the hopes they will be chosen to live.

The cast is excellent, without a weak link in the group. Maya Lacey as Ocean is outstanding. She is an overachiever who is sure she will be selected to come back to life. At the same time she is an awkward teen. Lacey is able to make Ocean both over-confident and vulnerable. I see comedic hints of Molly Shannon’s Mary Catherine Gallagher (Saturday Night Live) in Lacey’s performance. Joel Cumber as Noel is outrageously funny as the gay guy in the group. Julia Pulo plays Constance, a side-kick character who eventually comes into her own. Pulo deftly takes the audience on her journey. Margaret Thompson is excellent in the difficult role of Jane Doe, the unidentified body found in the roller-coaster wreckage. She brings a sampling of horror into the musical. Dean Deffett is perfect as Mischa, the Ukrainian friend, and Noah Beemer gives a great performance as Ricky Potts who copes with a degenerative disease when he was alive. 

Chris Tsujiuchi does triple duty as the musical director, keyboard player and the character Karnak, the mechanical fortune teller who predicts the future. Tsujiuchi handles all three roles nimbly and adds humour to the story. On drums is Jamie Bird who also plays Virgil the rat.

Director Tim Porter added three more characters to the show. Talia is an American Sign Language interpreter, who signs both the speaking and singing in the show. As a bonus, the dead people get the ability to understand and participate in sign language. Talia is played very well by Cassie-Hope Aubin. Two swings/understudies appear in the ensemble: Powell Nobert Ravishankar and Rachel Savlov. Porter said that Tweed & Co. has never included understudies before, but felt it was a prudent move in Covid times.

Credit goes to Porter for assembling this strong cast of young people. Good acting is required to make the far-fetched plot work, and this group delivers. Along with their acting, each cast member brings excellent singing and dancing skills. Sierra Holder’s choreography works very well in the limited space.

This is unusual material for a musical, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Nevertheless the plot offers food for thought as we see a group of teenagers try to figure out where they fit in their fight for life.  Because it’s an unusual show and very well done, it’s certainly worth seeing.

Even though it’s a show about students, leave the kids at home. The promotional material offers a warning:  This show features mature content and adult themes and may not be suitable for young children.

Ride the Cyclone continues at the Marble Arts Centre, Tweed, until July 23. Tickets are available by calling 613-478-6060 or visit https://www.tweedandcompany.com/

Photo: Ocean (Maya Lacey) attempts to take the lead with her fellow dead choir members.  

Ride the Cyclone
Music, lyrics and book by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell
Directed by Tim Porter
Musical Direction by Chris Tsujiuchi
Performed by Cassie-Hope Aubin, Noah Beemer, Joel Cumber, Dean Deffett, Maya Lacey, Powell Nobert Ravishankar, Julia Pulo, Rachel Savlov, Margaret Thompson.
Produced by Tweed and Co. Theatre
Marble Arts Centre, Actinolite – July 19 to 23, 2022
The Village Playhouse, Bancroft – July 27 to 31, 2022
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

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