It’s true; you really do remember your firsts. But while my first trip aboard Ride The Cyclone in 2011 will remain a theatrical highlight, the phenomenal cast in the current production makes a second spin on this E-ticket ride just as enjoyable.
While this latest version of Ride The Cyclone retains most of the original elements of its macabre story of six young members of the St. Cassian Chamber Choir who die aboard the Cyclone roller coaster at a traveling amusement park, there are a few changes since it first appeared in Vancouver two years ago. The biggest of these changes sees the students no longer participating in a final concert where they sing about their lives and unfulfilled dreams, but use those songs as part of a morbid competition whose single prize will give one of them their lives back. With the mechanical fortuneteller Karnack as the competition’s ghoulish host, the rules upon which they compete are in constant flux, a metaphor for the ever-changing nature of our lives.
With this new narrative framework comes a potential winner (no spoilers here) that provides for a somewhat happier ending than the original that saw no one escape death’s grip. While perhaps easier for an audience to accept that at least one of the six is saved from their fate, there is something to be said about a musical that refuses to compromise in retaining its gruesome premise to the bitter end.
Fortunately the biggest part of the show, the songs from each of the choir members, remains intact. For it is within these songs, and this phenomenal casts ability to perform them, that gives Ride The Cyclone the bulk of its strength.
Kholby Wardell once again gives one of the strongest performances of the night as Noel Gruber. In “Fucked Up Girl” Wardell masterly transforms into his alter-ego of a French prostitute to sing about living life to its fullest, something he was unable to do as the only gay in the village.
Elliott Loran returns as Ricky Potts, manifesting his own dramatic transformation from the awkward geek of the group to his spandex wearing alter-ego Zolar, a rock star on a planet inhabited by cats. Loran has grown in this character, making this another standout in an evening of exceptional performances.
As the newest member of the cast, Jameson Parker takes over the role Misha, the Ukranian gangsta-rapper who exudes such confidence in his hip-hop parody, no doubt taking a cue from his role last year in The Bomb-itty of Errors. His transition to the more serious “Thalia” allows for the creation of some wonderful theatrical magic.
In this latest version, Sarah Jane Pelzer is given more opportunity to explore the heartache of Jane Doe, Kelly Hudson’s song of pink sugar clouds is once again as powerful as it is tragic and Rielle Braid’s Constance takes on her new role as protagonist with aplomb.
James Insell gives life to the mechanized Karnack as puppeteer while Carey Wass gives him voice with a delightfully funny and appropriate deadpan delivery.
Doing double-duty, Insell joins Hank Pine in creating an expansion of the 2011 set design that still provides a wink to circus sides shows with its deep red velvet curtain. Some technical difficulties with the curtain were an unfortunate distraction.
Joining the cast on stage is a four-piece band ably providing the musical accompaniment, replacing the taped music and the cast performing on their own instruments of the 2011 version.
If you’ve never had the opportunity to jump onboard this wild and entertaining ride you owe yourself to see it. With a Broadway run still a possibility you’ll want to be able to proudly declare that you were able to Ride The Cyclone before anyone else.
Written by Jacob Richmond. Music and lyrics by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell. Directed by Britt Small and Jacob Richmond. Musical direction by Brooke Maxwell. An Atomic Vaudeville production presented with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival and the Arts Club Theatre Company. Visit http://artsclub.com for tickets and information.