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Ride the Cyclone

Morbid new revue-type musical about the death of six students on an amusement park ride has terrific performances by Kholby Wardell and Gus Halper.

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Kholby Wardell and cast in a scene from “Ride the Cyclone” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Kholby Wardell and cast in a scene from “Ride the Cyclone” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left” ] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]Aside from the morbid nature of the material, the question that arises while watching the new Canadian musical, Ride the Cyclone, is who is the intended audience. As it concerns the death of six teenagers on an amusement park ride, it would seem to be gauged at teenagers, but the songs in a variety of styles are too sophisticated for them. On the other hand, as the characters’ lives all ended around age 17, they don’t have too much to tell adults. Rachel Rockwell who directed the Chicago premiere in 2015 has given the show a terrific production for MCC Theater which disguises the paucity of the lyrics and the thinness of the plot premise. The cast of six, most of whom appeared in the American premiere in Chicago, make the show seem better than it is.

Set in a dilapidated Canadian warehouse in Uranium City, Saskatchewan, used for storing the debris of a once thriving amusement park, the show is narrated by an otherworldly emcee, The Amazing Karnak (a fine, unseen Karl Hamilton), a mechanical  fortune-telling machine which can predict people’s deaths. With only his flashing eyes and deep baritone voice, Karnak tells us of the accident in which the six members of the Saint Cassian Chamber Choir were killed when they were thrown off of the roller coaster. The six seventeen year olds, except for 18 year old Mischa, along with Jane Doe, an anonymous victim who was decapitated and is not a member of the choir, find themselves in a limbo ruled by Karnak.

Kholby Wardell, Lillian Castillo, Alex Wyse, Tiffany Tatreau and Gus Halper in a scene from “Ride the Cyclone” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Kholby Wardell, Lillian Castillo, Alex Wyse, Tiffany Tatreau and Gus Halper in a scene from “Ride the Cyclone” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

He proposes a competition in which one lucky contestant will be brought back to life. After pushing the lever on the Amazing Karnak machine and having his bio read, each one of the teenagers gets to sing a song to reveal his or her desires and dreams. At the end, they will all vote to pick the winner in a strange system devised by Karnak. The seven all perform songs in different styles, rock, pop, opera, hip hop, etc., with the others as back up. Mike Tutaj’s video design shows home video of each and adds décor for their songs, often distracting from the action center stage.

Each represents another type: Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (Tiffany Tatreau) is a straight A student with no humility. Constance Blackwood (Lillian Castillo), the nicest girl in town, is her unpopular, loyal friend whom she takes for granted. Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell) has the misfortune of having been the only gay boy in his high school, who has not surprisingly ever been kissed. Mischa Bachinski (Gus Halper) is a Ukrainian bad boy adopted as a teenager by a Canadian couple who don’t know what to make of him. Ricky Potts (Alex Wyse) is the victim of a degenerative disease which has left him mute as well as needing crutches. And nothing is known about the zombie-like Jane Doe, Emily Rohm (who carries a decapitated baby doll) as she is unidentified.

Emily Rohm and cast in “Ride the Cylone” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Emily Rohm and cast in “Ride the Cylone” (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Rockwell who also choreographed has turned each of the songs into an extravagant, go-for-broke production number. Best are Wardell’s “Noel’s Lament” in which he reveals he wants to be Monique Gibeau, a French street walker in black lingerie à la Marlene Dietrich’s Lola Lola, and Mischa’s rap number, “This Song is Awesome” which segues into “Talia,” in which he reveals his rage and passion. Rohm’s semi-operatic aria, “The Ballad of Jane Doe,” has her flying over the audience as she continues to sing.

Scott Davis’ scenic design creates the atmosphere of a shabby carnival while staying out of the way of the performers. The costumes by Theresa Ham alternate between the Saint Cassian uniforms in red and grey and the colorful outfits for each of the teenager’s musical numbers. Greg Hofmann has lit each of the numbers in a totally different and evocative style reminiscent of its content and mood.

The flashy orchestrations performed by the four piece combo dress up the undistinguished lyrics and the bland revue format. The use of many clichés is probably meant as comic but only go unnoticed as the show moves so fast. The expert cast makes the most of their opportunities but the basic question as to the intended audience for this bizarre story is never resolved. And the show is surprisingly upbeat considering the subject matter.

Ride the Cyclone (extended through December 29, 2016)

MCC Theater

Lucille Lortel Theatre, 122 Christopher Street, in Manhattan

For tickets call 866-811-4111 or visit

Running time: 100 minutes with no intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (991 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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