Theater Review: RIDE THE CYCLONE (Chance Theater)

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by Michael M. Landman-Karny on February 7, 2023

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


Ride the Cyclone is a 2008 musical by Canadians Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell. Originally written as a song cycle for the Atomic Vaudeville Theatre Company, it was retooled for its 2015 critically lauded US premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Since then, the show has played Off-Broadway and at major regional theatres such as the Arena Stage in Washington DC and the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. In the last two years, the show has developed a strong teen and tween fan base by going viral on Tik-Tok (#theatre, #cosplaying and #lip-syncing). Now, the non-Equity Chance Theater in Anaheim has scored a major coup by landing the California premiere.

Jared Machado as Mischa, Rose Pell as Constance, Jaylen Baham as Ricky,
Wyatt Hatfield as Noel, and Haley Wolff as Ocean

Meet six teens from the St. Cassian Chamber Choir of backwater Uranium City, Saskatchewan. Well, six dead teens, all of whom died tragically on the malfunctioning Cyclone roller coaster. In the hopes of coming back to life, each pitches their story — through the agency of a musical number — to The Amazing Karnak, a mechanical fortune teller. But only one will nab the prize of renewed life. Despite the gruesome subject matter, the show’s script deftly mixes pathos with humor, a la Heathers, the landmark high school film and musical. You may have reminiscences of the movie Big, the Forever Plaid musicals, and Finn and Lapine’s 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee — in which competitors each get a signature song — yet Ride the Cyclone feels wholly original. It may give a nod to other shows in the modern musical and dramatic canon, but that doesn’t lessen its abundant pleasures. This eccentric musical about Socratically examining lives worth living is deep, stimulating and charismatic.

Rose Pell, Wyatt Hatfield, Haley Wolff, Jaylen Baham,
and Robert Foran as The Amazing Karnak

After the non-singing Karnak (a deadpan Robert Foran) narrates the story of the roller-coaster tragedy, he introduces the dead teens, who are in limbo, and sets up the morbid contest. The six teens include the group’s natural leader Ocean (Haley Wolff), a “Rachel Berry” self-righteous type with a big ego and a Broadway sound; a Ukrainian-born wanna-be rapper, Misha (hilarious Jared Machado); the handicapped Ricky (Jaylen Baham); the overweight insecure Constance (Rose Pell); the school’s gay cineaste Noel (Wyatt Hatfield); and the decapitated and yet-to-be identified sixth victim Jane Doe (Em Flosi).

Haley Wolff, Jaylen Baham, Wyatt Hatfield, Rose Pell,
Jared Machado, and Em Flosi as Jane Doe

The ensemble radiates talent and enthusiasm in every scene. The score by Richmond and Maxwell gives them one opportunity after another to bring the house down as the actors seize the moment with their own mini play/musical number which annotates their life on earth. It’s a great choice to have different styles for the songs, each of which is a clever pastiche. Among them are rap, French chanson, and even a David Bowie/Ziggy Stardust homage. Standouts include the hilarious Haley Wollf, who celebrates her practical perfection and overachievement as Ocean; the young Peter Lorre lookalike Wyatt Hatfield, who endearingly acts out Noel’s fantasy as a tragic post-WWII French prostitute (a la Lili Marlene); and Jared Machado, who realistically portrays a Ukrainian teen who loves both rap and Ukrainian folk music. The cast members — each an impressive triple-threat — play the chorus while others solo in Bradley Allen Lock‘s reasoned costumes, from school uniforms to track suits to space alien garb.

Em Flosi, Wyatt Hatfield, Jaylen Baham, Haley Wolff,
Jared Machado, Rose Pell, and Robert Foran

Despite being primarily a series of solo numbers, director Jocelyn A. Brown offers seamless transitions while striking a balanced tone between comedy and poignancy with nary a hint of corniness or camp. Antonio Beach & Bradley Kaye‘s elaborate dilapidated amusement park netherworld set — coupled with Nick Santiago‘s extensive projections and Masako Tobaru‘s mood-setting lighting — is remarkably luxurious, especially given a small theater’s constrained budget.

Jaylen Baham, Jared Machado, Rose Pell, Wyatt Hatfield,
Haley Wolff, Em Flosi, and Robert Foran

Rebecca Kessin‘s sound is crisp and clear, enabling the audience to hear each lyric. It’s a bit disappointing to have pre-recorded tracks, but they blended effectively with the actors’ voices. I hope that Chance’s future production of Rent will feature a live band.

Jaylen Baham, Em Flosi, Jared Machado as Mischa Bachinski,
Haley Wolff, Wyatt Hatfield, and Robert Foran

While Ride the Cyclone is clearly targeted to a young demographic, musical theatre fans of all ages will be thrilled by this unique ride — a fun show with narrative substance. The show’s creators manage to skillfully blend dark humor, musical comedy tropes, and pathos, taking the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride that ends in pure satisfaction.

Rose Pell, Jared Machado, Jaylen Baham, and Em Flosi

photos by Doug Catiller, True Image Studio

Jaylen Baham, Em Flosi, Jared Machado, Rose Pell, Haley Wolff, and Wyatt Hatfield

Ride the Cyclone
Chance Theater
Cripe Stage @ Bette Aitken theater arts Center, 5522 E. La Palma in Anaheim
Thu at 7:30; Fri & Sat at 8; Sat & Sun at 3
ends on February 26, 2023
for tickets, call 888.455.4212 or visit Chance

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