Theatre review: Ride the Cyclone is an E Ticket Ride

Ladies and gentlemen, buckle-up and hold on tight as Atomic Vaudeville’s wildly inventive and tremendously entertaining Ride the Cyclone arrives in Vancouver as part of its cross-Canada tour.

Originally produced at Victoria’s Belfry Theatre in 2009, this home-grown musical tells the story six members of the St. Cassian Chamber Choir from Uranium, Saskatchewan who meets their fate aboard the Cyclone roller coaster at a traveling amusement park.  Taking responsibility for their deaths for having encouraged them to ride the coaster in the first place, Karnack the mechanical fortune telling machine, gives them the opportunity to perform one final concert where they share their personal stories through song.  Through their individual performances, the six sing about their lives and unfulfilled dreams.

Running a wide spectrum of musical genres from torch songs to hip-hop to gospel, writers Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond have provided each of the characters with an individuality that are at times as hilarious as they are poignant.  Playing to what appears to be each of this cast’s strengths you would swear the writing duo created each song specifically for these actors.

Opening the choir’s concert is Kholby Wardell as Noel Gruber, the only gay in the tiny town made entirely from uranium ore.  Living a rather mundane life as the child of the local “intelligentsia” (his family owned the local video store), we soon learn that Noel longed for a life as a French prostitute in post-war France, yearning to wake up in her own pool of vomit and missing teeth. We watch as Wardell transforms, complete with Cabaret inspired wig and fish-net stockings, into his alter-ego and provides one of the most outstanding vocal performances of the evening.

As each character continues to take to the stage for their own number, we are given a politically charged and wonderfully soulful gospel number from Rielle Braid as Ocean Rosenberg, the choir’s self-appointed leader and Matthew Coulson shows the yin and yang of his love for online girlfriend Natalia with a combination of hip-hop and ballet against a backdrop of Treena Stubel and Chris Loran’s delightfully kitcshy black and white film.

Elliott Loran channels a Tim Curry, Ziggy Stardust hybrid as Ricky Potts, the awkward geek of the group, in one of the show’s funniest numbers, and Kelly Hudson brings down the house as she sings of pink sugar clouds while revealing that despite her outward persona she is the only one of the group that didn’t scream as they hurled to their death.

As the final member of the sextet, Sarah Jane Pelzer’s Jane Joe is the enigma of the group.  The newest edition to the choir, neither she nor the rest of the group can remember who she was in real life.  Clutching the decapitated doll from which she has stolen the head to replace her own lost during the accident, Pelzer brings a perfect balance of spookiness and loss to the role.

The cast of Atomic Vaudeville's Ride the Cyclone.  Photo by Barbara Pedrick.
The cast of Atomic Vaudeville’s Ride the Cyclone.  Photo by Barbara Pedrick.

Not all the magic of Ride the Cyclone though is from the actors visible on stage.  Hidden behind the wonderfully retro fortune telling machine is puppeteer James Insell who gives Karnack a hilarious dead-pan delivery.  Insell also does double-duty, along with Hank Pine, as set designers capturing the small-town carnival vibe that includes a deep red velvet curtain, a winking nod to circus freak shows.

Musical accompaniment is provided by both taped music and at times by the characters themselves.   Loran provides piano accompaniment for a number of songs with Wardell and Coulson joining in on guitar and drums on others.  There is also Hank Pine’s Virgil, the bass playing rat who we learn early-on will soon meet his own death as he chews through the wires of Karnack’s fortune telling machine.

No doubt as word gets out about this E Ticket Ride you’re going to wish there was a Fastpass that would take you to the front of the line. But don’t just take my word for it; heed the final words of Karnack: “Be sure to ride the Cyclone”.

5 out of 5 Stars Ride the Cyclone

Written by Jacob Richmond.  Music and lyrics by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell.  An Atomic Vaudeville production.  On stage at the Granville Island Revue Stage through October 15, 2011.  Visit for tickets and information.

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