The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings

A CurtainUp Review
Ride the Cyclone

"My death has really affected me!"

ride the cyclone
Emily Rohm as Jane Doe (Photo: Joan Marcus)
To those who doubt that a fatal roller coaster accident involving a high school chorus can be ideal fodder for a musical comedy, meet Ride the Cyclone. Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond's new musical arrives at MCC Theater under the direction of Rachel Rockwell after a Canadian premiere and subsequent run in Chicago. The quirky show, a sort of purgatorial 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, depicts normal teenage social anxieties against a backdrop of haunting metaphysical angst.

The characters represent a typical range of high school archetypes: the Type A Ocean (normally Taylor Louderman, but played by Tiffany Tatreau in the preview performance reviewed by CurtainUp), her diminutive friend Constance (Lillian Castillo), the wannabe-gangster Mischa (Gus Halper), the lugubrious Noel (Kholby Wardell), and the timid Ricky (Alex Wyse). There's also an unidentified Jane Doe (Emily Rohm), whose stilted movements recall Joan Rivers's Dot Matrix in Spaceballs but who speaks with an airy emptiness as distant from Rivers as imaginable.

As the show opens, the mechanical fortuneteller the Amazing Karnak (an impressively designed puppet brought to life by Karl Hamilton) informs us that on a field trip, these members of the Saint Cassian High School Chamber Choir took a ride on the Cyclone roller coaster near their Saskatchewan home of Uranium City. Thanks to a broken axle they were sent to an untimely death. Now, Karnak offers them a chance to tell their stories, look back at their lives, and figure out who is most worthy of a second chance.

The competition that follows is reminiscent of an episode of American Idol, giving the spotlight over to one character at a time to probe their backstory and offer a representative song. The score is perfectly robust though not the most defining feature of the show. Most of the music takes a pop/rock style, but it's the songs playing off of other genres that actually tend to stand out more.

The adherence to a rigid structure of passing focus can be stifling, especially since it tends to elevate individuals over the ensemble. The cast members certainly shine individually—each performer can more than hold their own—but the lack of occasions for these strong performers to build something together feels like a missed opportunity.

One advantage of these characters' deep dives, though, is that they give us a chance to start seeing them as more than the stereotypes they appear to be at first glance. We come to understand their circumstances, aspirations, and regrets.

More often than not, the show pursues humor, but when it allows itself moments of poignancy they are often unexpected and resonant. Castillo stands out for nailing some of the best comedic moments in the show. She also delivers a touching and painful monologue on her relationship with her family and her town. Wyse offers a sensitive portrayal of a boy who was ignored by his peers due to physical disability, but also revels in celebrating the over-the-top fantasies Ricky lived in.

Nowhere is the contrast between humor and horror more clearly realized than in Jane Doe. Because she doesn't know who she is or was, she cannot retrieve any memories. She carries a headless doll as a reminder of the particularly grisly death she suffered. Rohm delicately balances reverence against the ridiculous and turns the character into a sort of sad clown. When she enters into a hypnotic, surreal song and dance number (Rockwell doubles as choreographer), she could have come straight out of Cirque du Soleil.

Rohm's dance number is one shining example of the fantastic work of the production's design team. That includes costume designer Theresa Ham, wig designer Leah J. Loukas, light designer Greg Hofmann, and sound designer Garth Helm. The effects and illusions in the show are provided by Michael Curry Design and Hat Rabbit Studio.

The eerie set by Scott Davis takes the form of a dilapidated a dilapidated warehouse filled with the ruins of carnivals past. It's encircled from above by the broken roller coaster track that never allows us to forget the tragic accident that brought the characters here. There's also ample space for Mike Tutaj's smoothly executed projection design, which provides a clever and useful way of expanding the character's stories.

It's easy to become immersed in and engrossed by a show with such a richly atmospheric design, even at the moments when the story traffics in clichés or formulas. And while the show moves towards a fairly predictable ending, it offers many surprises along the way. It's a musical that is unexpectedly charming and entertaining, despite its macabre premise.

Admittedly, our protagonists' brush with the Cyclone didn't work out too well. But in the case of New York audiences, watching from the safety of their seats, this Cyclone has what it takes to be quite an enjoyable ride.

Musical Numbers (all performed by the company)
  • Dream of Life
  • Fall Fair/Minor Turn
  • What the World Needs Is People Like Me
  • Noel's Lament
  • Every Story Has a Lesson
  • This Song is Awesome/Talia
  • Space Age Bachelor Man
  • The Ballad of Jane Doe
  • The New Birthday Song
  • Sugarcloud
  • Take a Look Around
  • It's Just a Ride

Search CurtainUp in the box below Back to Curtainup Main Page

Ride the Cyclone by Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond
Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Rockwell
Cast: Lillian Castillo (Constance Blackwood), Gus Halper (Mischa Bachinski), Karl Hamilton (The Amazing Karnak), Taylor Louderman (Ocean O'Connell Rosenberg) [note: Tiffany Tatreau played this role in the performance reviewed by CurtainUp], Emily Rohm (Jane Doe), Kholby Wardell (Noel Gruber), and Alex Wyse (Ricky Potts)
Scenic Design: Scott Davis
Costume Design: Theresa Ham
Lighting Design: Greg Hofmann
Sound Design: Garth Helm
Projection Design: Mike Tutaj
Wig Design: Leah J. Loukas
Music Director: Remy Kurs
Music Copyist: Andrew Griffin
Music Coordinator: Howard Joines
Special Effects and Illusions: Michael Curry Design and Hat Rabbit Studio
Production Stage Manager: Katherine Wallace
Music Supervisor: Doug Peck
Running Time: 1 hours and 40 minutes with no intermission
Presented by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street
Tickets: $89-$125; (866) 811-4111 or
From 11/9/2016; opened 11/30/2016; closing 12/18/2016
Performance times: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2 pm and 8 pm; and Sundays at 3 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 11/27/2016 performance

Highlight one of the responses below and click "copy" or"CTRL+C"
  • I agree with the review of Ride the Cyclone
  • I disagree with the review of Ride the Cyclone
  • The review made me eager to see Ride the Cyclone
Click on the address link E-mail:
Paste the highlighted text into the subject line (CTRL+ V):

Feel free to add detailed comments in the body of the email. . .also the names and emails of any friends to whom you'd like us to forward a copy of this review.

For a feed to reviews and features as they are posted at to your reader
Curtainup at Facebook . . . Curtainup at Twitter
Subscribe to our FREE email updates: E-mail:
put SUBSCRIBE CURTAINUP EMAIL UPDATE in the subject line and your full name and email address in the body of the message. If you can spare a minute, tell us how you came to CurtainUp and from what part of the country.

©Copyright 2016, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from