By Kari Boldon Welch

Ride the Cyclone by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell is a 90-minute, twisty-turny tale that is part Spoon River Anthology and part The Breakfast Club, with dashes of Rocky Horror Picture Show and …. Cats.

Described as a dark comedy, it is not as dark as one might think. The comedy, choreography, and character development help us embrace a macabre world in which six teenagers have met their end in a tragic roller coaster accident. Karnack (Lee Vogt) a Zoltar-like Fortune Telling Machine, read their fatal end just before they boarded the ill-fated carnival ride (all but one that is) and now guides them to the afterlife — but not without proposing a game first, a game in which one of the six can live again.

From there each of them tells their story — how they saw themselves, what and who they loved, and what they hoped they would become. The fated crew consists of members of the St. Cassian Chamber Choir of Uranium City, Saskatchewan, who have just finished a singing competition. Five of the six embody a teenage stereotype that yet blurs the lines of expectation within that stereotype. The sixth lost life is a mystery — found without her head, she has been labeled Jane Doe and neither the other members of the choir nor Jane Doe herself remember anything of her life.

It is rare to find a cast so well-balanced in skill. Harmonies and choreography are tight, and this young cast embraces the characters they define. Discovering each of them in turn is the intriguing delight of this wacky musical in which each song is remarkably different in style and genre. Laura Tuffli gives a stand-out performance as Jane Doe, giving us a quirky, creepy, believable lost soul.

The wonderful set design in reds and blues by Jeffrey Cook provides a carnival canvas for director Craig Willis and choreographer Alexander Holmes to play with. The turntable in the middle adds even more movement and staging possibilities.

Projections by Ryan Rusby with assistance from Quinn Connell and Donovan Snider and lighting by Emily Bolivar enhance each character’s changing moods and storytelling. Prop designer Amy Weinkauf sewed a LOT of light bulbs on umbrellas. For a show with mostly dead characters, it comprises a surprising amount of costume pieces and changes, remarkably executed by designer Erin Wills. The only drawback of this production was sound balance, making it difficult to make out each word of the wonderfully crafted lyrics.

Ride the Cyclone has become a cult favorite of Gen Z, going viral in 2022 with YouTube and TikTok clips of The Ballad of Jane Doe. Theories and explanations abound regarding what it is about this particular piece of theater that connects with a generation that spent a good percentage of their young lives in lockdown. In fact, one can find a particularly well-thought-out YouTube Blog from a Gen Z musical theater major about how each character represents a different stage of grief.

Thematically, it is a story about the shortness of life, about lives not lived fully, about what we appreciate and don’t while we are spinning around on this planet called Earth. This becomes particularly poignant in Constance Blackwood’s (Annie Craven) song Sugartop. We can all look down from up above and see our small lives with appreciation from a different perspective. It’s a poignant reminder that really, “It’s just a ride.”

You don’t have to be a teen to twenty-something to enjoy the wonderful weirdness of this world. And I encourage you to get your tickets soon. This is bound to be a sell-out show. I hope it extends. I might go see it again.