Six members of a small Canadian town high school choir board the carnival ride, The Cyclone, when calamity strikes. Plunged into purgatory under the auspices of an animatronic death-predictor Karnak (Jim Lichtscheidl), they compete against one another for the opportunity to return to life. Deeply macabre in the way that high school and puberty are grotesque even without untimely death, the Jungle Theater’s production of Ride the Cyclone hits all the right notes.
If you have read my other reviews, you know that I can get a bit obsessed with acting and The Book. But I have to say, for Ride the Cyclone, let’s start with the pitch-perfect lighting design. Marcus Dillard has created a fantasia of light; composed of circus spotlights, club strobes, purple alien sunsets, dreamy light tides of the afterlife, and even light that can decapitate characters, Ride the Cyclone feels like a mixture of cabaret, music video, Survivor, and Glee.
And our contestants for the evening are…
- The Straight-A and incredibly high-strung student: Ocean (Shinah Brashears)
- The unflagging and bashful best friend: Constance (Gabrielle Dominique)
- The overlooked and passionate Ukrainian adoptee: Mischa (Michael Hanna)
- The incredibly imaginative but often discounted “sick” kid: Ricky (Jordan M. Leggett)
- The Desperately disaffected, French culture devotee: Noel (Josh Zwick)
And, because game shows need to throw a wrench in things to keep audiences...
- The decapitated, 6th choir member no one seems to remember: Jane Doe (Becca Hart)
The American Idol format of the show gives every character a solo song, so while Ocean does feel like the main protagonist, everyone gets a moment in the spotlight. Perhaps the best thing about the book and music (I promised I would get back to this!) is that the songs are really well-written and well-scored. They aren’t necessarily about moving the plot forward per se, instead opting to give us a wonderful glimpse into the inner world of the teens. From self-aggrandizement to outer-space cat-people carousing, from a hysterical number about wanting to be a prostitute in France to a loving remembrance of home, every song in Ride the Cyclone gets to the pathos of high school: the hormones, the desire to be independent, the excitement of leaving home, and its accompanying the fear that nothing will ever be the same again.
Incredibly well-cast, Dominique, Hanna, and Zwick are quite funny and interject the right amount of macabre tragedy into their roles. In the dancing numbers, all three shine. I found myself charmed by Leggett’s geeky persona (the phrase “let your freak flag fly” feels unquestionably right here) and his breakout song had the whole audience laughing from start to finish. Brashears makes Ocean cloyingly Machiavellian, and my goodness can she sing!
For me, the break out performances of the evening were the perfectly-lit and styled Lichtscheidl (he seriously looks like he is made out of plastic), and the incredibly versatile and exquisitely creepy Becca Hart. Hart plays Jane Doe somewhere between Frankenstein’s monster and a broken doll and maintains Jane’s unsettling movements and impossibly large, doe-like eyes even during dance numbers. Coupled with some truly awe-inspiring technical aspects (when was the last time you hit a high note while spinning upside down in the air?) this is a show not to be missed. Grab your ticket and enjoy your ride on the cyclone, through October 20.