Written by Alison Kaitcer
I’ve always been absolutely petrified of roller coasters. The promise of an adrenaline rush just doesn’t appeal to me when I can stay safely on the ground, thanks very much. Fortunately, my high school choir never embarked on a doomed amusement park trip, but that doesn’t make Ride the Cyclone’s dark premise any less terrifying: after the titular roller coaster’s front axle breaks and derails, six undead high schoolers have to sing for their lives in a twisted game show set-up that is equal parts Glee and Final Destination.
It’s hard to say what exactly I was expecting going in, but from the moment the haunting opening number began it was clear I had no idea what I was in for. So much of this show thrives in that liminal space between tragedy, comedy, and plain absurdity, that attempting to capture the spectacle of it all is nearly impossible. As each student steps up to tell their story to an equally doomed fortune-telling robot, The Amazing Karnak (played brilliantly by Karl Hamilton), the audience gets a clear and sometimes uncomfortable portrait of who they were in life. The show stars Tiffany Tatreau as Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg, a semi-compassionate overachiever, Lillian Castillo as Constance Blackwood, Ocean’s best friend and reluctant sidekick brimming with unexpressed feelings, Connor Russell as Ricky Potts, a boy whose degenerative muscular disease keeps him stuck in his own fantasy world, Adam Standley as Mischa Bachinski, a Ukrainian YouTube rapper who claims to only have two emotions (“Passion, and rage!”), Kholby Wardell as Noel Gruber, the only gay kid in their tiny Canadian town, and Emily Rohm as the most upsetting character of the bunch, Jane Doe. Decapitated in the accident and therefore unable to remember who she is, Jane Doe is barely able to tell her own story and elicits a special kind of terror with her uncanny appearance.
For such a dark premise, Ride the Cyclone delivers near-constant laughter in between poignant tales of lost love and space operas. Sitting in the audience means experiencing the full spectrum of human emotion in just 90 short minutes, with no intermission. The musical, which began as a cabaret show in Victoria, B.C., has changed a lot in its relatively short lifespan; the Seattle production features the latest version, including new songs and a new opening. After seeing the show in person, it is hard to conceptualize it any other way. It is rare to find a show that balances engaging storytelling, a strong ensemble cast, and songs that won’t leave your head, but Ride the Cyclone manages to strike the perfect balance. The staging is superb, and there isn’t a single moment that falls flat or feels weaker than the others. The technical aspects—lighting, stage design, and even stunts—were worth the ticket price even without all the other fantastic pieces that tie this show into the work of art it is.
If you can only see one show in your entire life, go see Ride the Cyclone at A Contemporary Theatre. Unlike getting on a rickety roller coaster, I promise you won’t regret it.
Ride the Cyclone is now playing through May 20th at ACT (700 Union St.). You can buy tickets online at www.acttheatre.org, by phone at 206-292-7676, or at the Box Office.
ALISON KAITCER | forever trying to hit the high notes in “The Ballad of Jane Doe” | KXSU Arts Reporter