Directed by Jacob Richmond and Britt Small. Book by Jacob Richmond. Music by Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond. An Arts Club Theatre Company production as part of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival. Continues at the Granville Island Stage until February 16
If you died after reading this sentence, would anyone have really known you? Or would your secret self be desperate for one last swan song coming to terms with who you were and the person you always thought you’d have time to become?
Now add in a little choreography and the morbid, twee humour of Wes Anderson and Tim Burton and you have Ride the Cyclone, the most inventive and twisted musical to ever come out of Victoria, B.C and probably Canada.
Created by Atomic Vaudeville, Ride the Cyclone tells the tale of six high-school choir teens from Uranium, Saskatchewan, who have just died riding the Cyclone roller coaster. Trapped between this world and the other side, they become unwilling participants in a game orchestrated by the omniscient, talking, automated fortune-teller the Amazing Karnack, who offers them a chance to “save” one person and bring him or her back to life.
The entire cast, many of whom have been with the production since its workshop days in 2009, is flawless. There are no empty or false moments from the actors, and thanks to a combination of keen attention to detail and the amount of time spent perfecting each moment, almost everything works beautifully.
Even the majority of the songs, which impressively run the gamut from steamy chanson (invigoratingly performed by Kholby Wardell) to pitch-perfect operetta (a heartbreaking turn by Sarah Jane Pelzer), are stellar.
What that means, though, is that the few musical numbers that have even the faintest weakness stand out. The main issue is with “Space Age Bachelor Man”. It aims for David Bowie–meets–Tommy but doesn’t push itself far enough sonically and drags in places. That’s strange, given the song is basically about one boy’s rich inner fantasy life about being a sex god sent to lay with feline aliens.
But aside from this minor complaint and a few sound inconsistencies that should get ironed out, Ride the Cyclone is the quintessential modern musical: plenty of black humour tempered by some lovely pathos, and a sweeping survey of 20th-century music. That it sends you into the night with a reflective and grateful heart means it may also have the necessary staying power to become a classic.