Updated: Feb 13
The California premiere of this Musical Comedy that really goes off the rails
By Dana Hammer
Roller coasters have long been used as a metaphor for life, probably since they were
invented. The ups and downs, the twists and turns, the excitement, the danger! People who
have a zest for life love roller coasters. They’re fun and free-spirited. People who don’t like
roller coasters are Debbie-Downers who only eat dry toast and scowl at things. You have to
embrace the topsy-turvy nature of life if you want to be happy; otherwise you’re doomed to a
depressing existence, alone with your cats.
But here’s the thing about roller coasters. Sometimes — not very often — but sometimes
— they break in catastrophic ways. Ways that no amount of positive attitude and joie de vivre
can fix. And when that happens, people die.
That’s the inciting incident in the dark-comedy-musical, “Ride the Cyclone,” by Brooke
Maxwell and Jacob Richmond. Six teenage choir members are riding a roller coaster (called the Cyclone) and die due to the coaster’s mechanical failure. The kids’ spirits are then made to perform songs about their lives for The Amazing Karnak, a machine-fortune-teller, who will award life to the one most worthy.
The characters who vie and sing for their lives are as follows —
Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg — President of the choir. An overachiever.
Mischa Bachinski — a Ukrainian adoptee who uses a gangster persona to conceal his tender heart. His adoptive parents thought they were getting a two-year-old.
Noel Gruber — the only gay guy in Uranium, Saskatchewan. Works at Taco Bell. Dreams of becoming a tragic French sex worker.
Ricky Potts — suffers from a degenerative, fatal disease. Has an active imagination.
Jane Doe — a creepy, headless girl who has no memories of who she was before the accident.
Constance Blackwood — “The Nicest Girl in Town” who is dismissed for her positive attitude and love of her hometown.
So… Who would you bring back?
That’s the fun of this musical. It allows us to sit in judgment. We are all Karnak, watching them perform, asking them to explain and justify themselves. But the show also asks us to examine our own lives.
How would we stack up against these kids?
How would we stack up against our friends?
Director Jocelyn A. Brown says, “Experiencing these teenagers striving to win a chance to go back to life, this production is a vehicle for each of us to reflect upon our own lives. None of us know how long we have on this Earth. If we knew that it might be cut short, does that change our perspectives, the decisions we make, and how we approach each day going forward? Ultimately, this is a wonderfully entertaining, life-affirming journey.”
It might seem like a play about dead teenagers would be depressing, but that is far from the case. The cast of quirky characters, funny songs, and witty dialogue make for an uplifting, hilarious musical. I asked the director if it was a challenge to keep the tone light, and she replied, “Maybe this is surprising, but not at all. Through the Amazing Karnak’s…initial snarky banter and tongue-in-cheek interactions with the audience, you understand the tone fairly quickly. From the outset, Karnak whisks us into his vaudevillian world, with an almost game-show quick tempo.”
In the end, though the subject matter might seem grim, this isn’t a grim musical. It’s a fun, bizarre meditation on the nature of a life well-lived, and what that looks like for different people. Some of us love the roller coaster. Some of us get motion sickness and it’s not our fault, and people should stop judging us and saying we’re no fun because of it. Some of us lean into the twists and turns of life. Some of us like to keep our feet solidly on the ground. Which of us is doing it right? Which of us is most worthy of this amazing gift we call life? The correct answer, obviously, is people who get motion sickness and don’t like spinning in circles for no reason. But you can make that call for yourself, when you come see “Ride the Cyclone” at Chance Theater.
Dana Hammer is the author of the horror novel, The Cannibal’s Guide to Fasting. She writes plays, screenplays, novels and short stories. She lives in Anaheim. She likes roller coasters. She hates rides that spin.
“Ride the Cyclone”
at Bette Aitken theater arts Center on the Cripe Stage
5522 E. La Palma Ave. Anaheim, CA 92807
January 27 - February 26, 2023
(888) 455-4212, www.ChanceTheater.com