Ride the Cyclone (Hayes Theatre Co)


The premiere took place in Canada in 2008. Ride the cyclone has its Australian premiere at the Hayes Theatre Co – and Richard Carroll’s clever production is sure to take you on quite a ride.

Written by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell (with additional material by Alan Schmuckler), Ride the cyclone is a darkly comic, strange, yet oddly delightful show with a macabre premise.

Six teenage choir singers from the hopeless mining town of Uranium City, Saskatchewan, die in a bizarre rollercoaster accident. They find themselves in a state of limbo and are invited by a mechanical fortune teller called The Amazing Karnak to tell their story. The prize? One of them will be given the chance to return to life.

Ride the cyclone

Justin Gray and the cast of Ride the Cyclone, Hayes Theatre Co, 2024. Photo © Prudence Upton

The show mixes existentialism with teenage angst as viewers reveal their experiences, insecurities and dreams. It asks what makes a life worth living. And who among them deserves a second chance?

After the launch in Canada, Drive the Cyclone became a hit in Chicago and New York, and then something of an online phenomenon, with over half a billion views on TikTok. It's no wonder the Hayes production is (by all accounts) attracting a new, young audience.

Carroll stages the show on a striking Benjamin Brockman set, which consists of a broken rollercoaster track that curves into the auditorium, while a large circular screen in the background recalls Karnak's crystal ball. Through clever use of perspective, the Hayes stage feels deeper and larger than ever before.

Carroll has chosen the show's cast superbly and they deliver convincing performances throughout. Each of them performs their songs with bravura and works together as a well-rehearsed ensemble.

The overzealous Ocean O'Connell (played by Karis Oka) kicks off the event. She's extremely confident and smug (“What the world needs is more people like me”) and only learns after her performance by The Amazing Karnak that the winner must be decided unanimously by the group. Oops! She has to back down quickly after insulting the others.

Noel Gruber (Bailey Dunnage), the only gay boy in town, grew up with the 1930 film The blue Angel with Marlene Dietrich in the leading role and a quote from Jean Genet. He appears as his secret alter ego Monique Gibeau, “a hooker with a heart of black coal” who dies a tragic death.

Mischa Bachinski (Lincoln Elliott) was sent to Canada by his mother, who died of radiation poisoning while working on the Chernobyl cleanup. Angry at the way he was treated by his adoptive parents, he begins an aggressive rap, but then softens as he remembers life in his Ukrainian village, where his fiancée lives.

The withdrawn Ricky Potts (Justin Gray), unable to speak after a trauma, suddenly finds his voice suspended and reveals that he imagines himself as a comic book hero saving a planet full of evolved, anthropomorphic cats.

Jane Doe (Ava Madon) was decapitated in the accident and her head was never found. She wears the choir uniform, but none of the others know who she was. Even the sinister-looking Jane suffers from amnesia and cannot remember her previous life.

Ride the cyclone

Mel O'Brien and the cast of Ride the Cyclone, Hayes Theatre Co, 2024. Photo © Prudence Upton

Finally, we hear from Constance Blackwood (Mel O'Brien), who is constantly belittled by Ocean, her supposed best friend. Frustrated with being “the nicest girl in town,” Constance is sweet but full of self-loathing, has a dark sense of humor, and a secret.

As each of them tells their story, we can identify with them and empathize with them, and touching little connections form between them as the show progresses.

Meanwhile, “The Amazing Karnak,” hunched over the crystal ball in a glass box, acts as a sarcastic narrator and is voiced perfectly by Pamela Rabe.

Ride the cyclone has a witty book and witty lyrics, coupled with an engaging, energetic score that includes genres such as rock, pop, hip hop, ballads, Ukrainian folk music, Weimar cabaret and waltzes. Matching the teens' stories and emotions, the music keeps the show moving and is brilliantly played by a funky five-piece band under the musical direction of Victoria Falconer, who sits behind the back wall. The sound design (Daniel Herten) is also spot on.

Costumes by Esther Zhong, imaginative choreography by Shannon Burns and dramatic lighting by Ryan McDonald complete the impressive production.

Run for 95 minutes without a break, Ride the cyclone is a strange and wonderful ride that is well worth the effort.

Ride the cyclone plays at the Hayes Theatre Co., Potts Point, Sydney until 22 June, then at The Art House, Wyong on 28 and 29 June.

Take the Limelight reader survey and win a gift voucher from the Australian Digital Concert Hall