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Ride the Cyclone

a Musical Comedy
by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, with additional material by Alan Schmuckler

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 5497

SHOWING : May 01, 2019 - May 26, 2019



Described by The New York Times as “high spirited and just plain fun from start to finish,” RIDE THE CYCLONE makes its regional debut at the Alliance following productions in Canada, Chicago, New York, and Seattle. In this dark comedy, the Saint Cassian High School Chamber Choir boards the Cyclone roller coaster at 6:17 p.m., dying minutes later when the front axle breaks, sending them to their tragic demise. When they awake in a strange purgatory, a mechanical fortune teller invites each to tell the story of a life interrupted — with the promise of a prize like no other — a chance for one of them to return to life. Described as “delightfully weird and just plain delightful,” RIDE THE CYCLONE is a wildly original new musical — part comedy, part tragedy, and wholly unexpected.

Mischa Bachinski Chaz Duffy
Constance Blackwood u/s Abby Holland
Noel Gruber u/s Cody Russell
The Amazing Karnak u/s Kevin Stillwell
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Resurrection of the Headless
by playgoer
Monday, May 20, 2019
"Ride the Cyclone" is touted as a musical loved by people who hate musicals. Is the converse true -- that it will be hated by people who love musicals? No. It’s entertaining, if slight in terms of plot, and contains a pastiche score, with songs in many musical styles. There’s some wonderful stagecraft at work in Leora Morris’ production, which has been brought to the Alliance after playing Chicago and Off-Broadway under Rachel Rockwell’s original direction. The production has seemingly had very little Atlanta involvement, with a handful of Atlanta-based artists: music director Greg Matteson (a 2018 returnee), sound designer Clay Benning, actor Chaz Duffy, and some understudies and assistant personnel.

Chicago-based scenic designer Scott Davis and lighting designer Greg Hormann have created a theatrical environment that is supposed to be a carnival warehouse, with dusty detritus rimming the playing area. There’s a curtained light-up proscenium upstage and an off-kilter light-up "Cyclone" sign above the stage, and lots of lighting effects enhance the show greatly. A whirling white light effect behind the open curtains does a wonderful job of evoking the afterlife, which is where the entire action takes place. Mike Tutaj has provided a dizzying area of projections that show up on the proscenium, on the curtain, and even on Theresa Ham’s varied costumes. The basic costumes are augmented by outfits worn briefly by the actors as they portray minor figures in memory and fantasy sequences. The show is a visual feast.

The show’s concept is that six young members of the Saint Cassian Chamber Choir have died in a roller coaster accident, and are informed by a mechanical fortune teller that one of them can return to life after each gives a presentation and they all vote. This is a flimsy framework, with the rules of the contest being changed without notice, and with the presentations sometimes acting more as an excuse to throw in cabaret numbers than to illuminate character. There’s a loopy sense of humor at play in the script and score by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, with additional material by Alan Schmuckler.

The mechanical fortune teller is played by Karl Hamilton in a mask with glowing eyes. He sits in a booth stage left, making mechanical movements from time to time as he speaks. His vocal patterns aren’t particularly those of an automaton, though; he sounds pretty human.

We get to know the other characters through their interplay and their presentations, which occur in the following order:
1) Ocean Rosenberg (Tiffany Tatreau) is a high achiever who likes to control things, denigrating the others in the hopes of being the one chosen to live, until she realizes a vote will be taken and becomes all apologetic.
2) Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell) is a gay student with a weird, cross-dressing sexual fantasy.
3) Mischa Bachinski (Chaz Duffy) is a Ukrainian rapper with a hard exterior who pines for his fiancée in the Ukraine.
4) Ricky Potts (Scott Redmond) was a severely disabled person in real life who suddenly can talk and walk and play the accordion in the afterlife. His presentation is a weird outer space fantasy.
5) Jane Doe (Emily Rohm) is an unidentified victim whose (literally) soaring number humanizes her creepy, doll-like behavior. She carries a headless doll upon her entrance, but the script certainly makes it sound like Jane herself was decapitated in the accident.
6) Constance Blackwood (Lillian Castillo), the most comedic character, whose catch phrase is "Sorry," sings about the sensations of being hurled from the roller coaster and hurtling through the air.

As each character pulls a lever on The Amazing Karnak’s booth to start their turn in the spotlight, the proscenium lights up with pictures of the actor from infancy to the present day. It’s a nice touch, and the final projection plays on this idea, showing the one survivor’s life from the time of their recovery to their death far in the future. It’s a feel-good ending to the show, but one that seems just about as random as much of the material that’s gone on before. Canada is known for its sketch comedy, and "Ride the Cyclone" seems to fall clearly in that category.

Acting and singing is terrific under Greg Matteson’s music direction, and choreography by Ericka Mac and David Dorfman is nimbly performed by the energetic cast. The entire show seems to be of a piece, with all technical elements combining to create a show more pleasurable than the sum of its parts.

The cast is well-balanced, with most of its members veterans of one or more previous productions of "Ride the Cyclone." Ms. Tatreau is perky and fun, while Ms. Rohm is dark and mysterious, but both have wonderful voices. Messrs. Wardell and Redmond have the oddest numbers to perform, but do so well. Mr. Duffy truly impresses, following a rap number with a song highlighting his legit voice, all while keeping up a believable Ukrainian accent. Ms. Castillo gives an indelible performance, with lots of comic bits mixed in with a layered backstory that deepens as the show progresses.

The Alliance is less a company that produces musicals on its own than one that brings in outsiders to mount their shows at the Alliance in what they hope will be a journey to the big time. "Ride the Cyclone" has already conquered Canada and made a splash at a few venues across the U.S. (Seattle, Chicago, and now Atlanta). What’s next? Widespread release to regional and community theatres? It’s a funny, quirky, and sometimes profane show featuring a young cast, and there are a number of theatre companies in the area that cater to a demographic that would eat this show up, even in a production less flashy and professional than what is appearing on the Alliance’s mainstage. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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