PuSh Festival: Jacob Richmond’s Ride the Cyclone rolls its way to a hit
Jacob Richmond’s Ride the Cyclone just may take him all the way from his hometown of Victoria to New York City. But whether or not this roller coaster drops him off in the Big Apple, he’s determined to enjoy the ride.
Richmond is clearly the central artist on the project. Although he emphasizes the cooperative nature of the work—“I’m at my happiest when I’m collaborating,” he says, speaking on the phone from his home—his name is all over the show. Richmond wrote the book, he cowrote the music with Brooke Maxwell, and he has codirected the piece with Britt Small every time that their Atomic Vaudeville company has produced it.
Following in the twisted tradition of Richmond’s Legoland, a 2005 production in which two young siblings sell their Ritalin to finance a cross-country trip, Ride the Cyclone is one quirky piece of musical theatre. In the show, six kids from Uranium, Saskatchewan’s high-school chamber choir have been killed in a freak roller-coaster accident. The Amazing Karnack, a mechanized fortuneteller, feels responsible for their deaths and brings them back to sing one last time. Each of the characters gets a show-stopping solo, including Noel, the gay boy, who belts out a cabaret number called “Fucked Up Girl”.
The 2011 incarnation of Ride the Cyclone, which played the Arts Club’s Revue Theatre and gave Vancouver one of its most exciting opening nights ever, caught the attention of New York producers Kevin McCollum and Morris Berchard (McCollum is best known as one of the producers of the Tony Award–winning Canadian musical The Drowsy Chaperone).
Right away, there was talk of a New York run, but McCollum and Berchard wanted a rewrite. “Basically, they were interested in me creating an overarching narrative for the piece,” Richmond explains. “So that’s what Brooke and I have been working on all year.” In the new version, the Amazing Karnack creates a competition in which the winning child will be allowed to come back to life.
Producers McCollum and Berchard have paid for two script workshops and have helped set up the current tour, which includes performances in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Nanaimo. “It’s their hope that we kind of workshop this new draft through these performances and see how audiences respond to it,” the writer explains.
In December, McCollum flew up to see the new version in a Victoria tryout. Asked about the producer’s response, Richmond is cagey. “It was great,” he says. “He’s very larger than life and he certainly has a lot of opinions.”
Although he describes McCollum’s visit to Victoria as a “trial by fire”, Richmond generally seems to be keeping his cool in dealing with the big boys from Broadway—and he thinks that growing up as a theatre baby might be helping him to do that. Richmond’s parents are director Brian Richmond and actor and director Janet Wright. “Ever since I was in Grade 4,” Richmond says, “I’ve been getting feedback on my stage work. My parents have always been really honest, but fair as well, so it certainly has prepared me. You get used to it. You develop scales. You don’t get too precious.”
Pragmatism also tempers Richmond’s excitement about the possibility of a New York run. “Not every piece fits into a stadium-sized theatre where you’d see something like Wicked,” he notes. “I think that they [McCollum and Berchard] are just trying to brainstorm about where it could land.” If that means a smaller venue away from the Great White Way, or simply more touring, then great: “So many people have put so many hours of work into Ride the Cyclone, I’d just be happy to see it go to as many places as possible.” In the meantime, Richmond is dreaming up another project. Legoland also has ties to his mythical vision of Uranium City, Saskatchewan, and he wants to add one more show to the mix to complete the Uranium Teen Scream Trilogy. “The third one, I think, will take place on a cruise ship. It will be about elderly women who had a pop hit when they were teenagers.”
Ride the Cyclone plays at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage from next Thursday (January 17) to February 16, as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.