By Brian Scott Lipton
In many ways, the quirky new musical Ride the Cyclone — about six dead Canadian teenagers killed on a roller coaster who end up in purgatory pleading for a chance at redemption — lives up to its namesake amusement park ride: it has twists and turns, moments of fear and exhilaration, and is ultimately rather diverting. Still, like most such rides, it’s fun while it lasts, yet will be forgotten hours, if not, minutes later.
Its lack of permanent memory is not the fault of either its savvy and inventive director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell or the show’s design team, led by Scott Davis (sets), Greg Hoffman (lighting), and Michael Curry Design & Hut Rabbit Studio (special effects and illusion), all of whom have come together to create a rather eye-filling production on the smallish Lucille Lortel Theatre stage. There’s a little bit of acrobatics, a touch of inspired lighting, and props galore.
Instead, the show’s shortcomings lie firmly in the hands of its promising, but-not-quite-ready-for-primetime, co-authors Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond. First, their characters rarely feel more than two-dimensional; in fact, the witty fortune telling machine, The Amazing Karnak (voiced by the excellent Karl Hamilton), is often the most interesting “person” on stage for much of the show’s 90 minutes. Yes, I realize the teens are, rather purposely, stereotypes, most notably goody-two-shoes Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg, a sort of a second-rate Tracy Flick (well played by Tiffany Tatteau) to frustrated gay boy Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell, who almost seems to be channeling Jim Parsons) to seemingly timid but eventually defiant Constance Blackwood (a very fine Lillian Castillo).
However, a little more depth might help us care more about them – and their ultimate fate. Personally, I rooted for outwardly-bad, inwardly-sensitive Ukranian wannabe rapper Mischa Bachinki (the model-handsome and very talented Gus Halper), and many will favor the disabled Ricky Potts (Broadway veteran Alex Wyse), who is revealed to have a rich fantasy life. And ironically, the most affecting teen of all is the headless, nameless Jane Doe (Emily Rohm, possessing great stillness and a gorgeous soprano), simply because she remains a mystery.
More problematic is that the pair’s pastiche-driven score, ranging from pseudo-rap to 60s-inspired pop to pure Broadway, never makes as much of an impression as it should. Some of the songs (“Noel’s Lament,” “Space-Age Bachelor Man”) start out promisingly but go on too long, while others (“Fall Fair Minor Turn”) barely register. Only “The Ballad of Jane Doe” and Constance’s “Sugarcloud” might be worthy of repeated listening.
In fairness, I admit that the audience at my performance was more enthusiastic than I was about the show, and I suspect that Ride the Cyclone might have a continued life in regional theater and in high schools across the country. Still, like Karnak, I stand by my prediction: Ride the Cyclone is simply not a fully accomplished enough piece of theater to become a long-running tourist attraction in New York.
Ride the Cyclone. Through December 29 at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street, Greenwich Village) through December 29. Running time is 100 minutes. For tickets,call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.mcctheater.org.
Photos: Joan Marcus