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REVIEW: Rollercoaster All the Way in Ride the Cyclone (Jungle Theater)

Gabrielle Dominique, Michael Hanna, Shinah Brashears, Josh Zwick, Becca Hart, and Jordan M. Leggett in the Jungle Theater production of Ride the Cyclone. Photo by Dan Norman.

The exploding musical Ride the Cyclone ushers in Jungle Theater’s new season. The show is best described as a mix between an amusement ride Twilight Zone and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats. Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond wrote the music and lyrics, and Jacob Richmond wrote the book. Director Sarah Rasmussen and musical director Mark Christine have taken the script and score to create an exciting and eerie experience about the aftermath of a rollercoaster accident.

The show opens with a carnival’s mechanical fortune teller, Karnak, announcing his upcoming demise – to be caused by a rat chewing through his power cord. What’s more, the St. Cassian High School Chamber Choir of Saskatchewan, who happen to competing in a choir competition at the fair, will meet their demise as well…when the Cyclone ride crashes with all of them on it. Soon, the six deceased students are cast in a limbo world with Karnak as their host.  Karnak announces that he has the power to return one of them to life, but only one. Each of the six students proceeds to musically tell their life story, hoping he/she are chosen to return to life.

The introduction songs are notable and fun. The peppy Ocean (a delightful Shinah Brashears), for example, recounts her exemplary life as her case for being the only one among her friends worth resurrection. Ocean, it turns out, was raised by hippie parents but found her real inspiration for life through the clean-cut, 1960s youth singing group Up with People.  Naturally, Ocean/Brashers turns in amazing, upbeat performance in her song “What the World Needs”, showing that she would be perfect as a singer with the Up with People group.

Jane Doe (Becca Hart), sadly decapitated in a tragic accident, sings a song of woe. Photo by Dan Norman.

Other actors and their characters yield distinctive performances as well. Josh Zwick, as Noel, is riveting in his femme fatale song “Noel’s Lament”, which had the audience up on its feet. Michael Hanna is charming as Mischa, a Ukrainian refuge who dazzles with two starkly different songs: a gangsta rap and a love ballad. Jordan M. Leggett surprises as he shifts from his mute, disabled character to one who breaks out in a song and dance about a space hero fantasy life.  Gabrielle Dominique convincingly plays Constance, a dweeb girl who, by default, is Ocean’s best friend.  Dominique provides a heartwarming song about how she hated her life, but once it was ending she realized she had a really a wonderful life. Then there’s Becca Hart as the headless Jane Doe (having been decapitated in the accident, neither she nor anyone else knows who she is) has the most exhilarating moment on stage as she sings and dances in “The Ballad of Jane Doe” with her body floating in the air. Ther’s also much humor from Jim Lichtscheidl as the oh-so-condescending fortuneteller.

The show’s visual aesthetic strongly evokes The Twilight Zone, thanks to lighting designs by Marcus Dilliard and projections by Kathy Maxwell. This plays well against scenic designer Chelsea M. Warren’s and sound designer Sean Healey’s creation of the ongoing carnival background.

The show has numerous animated high points and, at times, it almost felt like it was too much.  Like someone on a rollercoaster, I needed some lower energy moments to prepare for the next stimuli.  But if you are daring and hang on tight, Cyclone provides exhausting entertainment.

Mischa (Michael Hanna, center) busts out in a posthumous rap. Photo by Dan Norman.

Ride the Cyclone plays through October 20 at the Jungle Theater in Minneapolis, MN.

Bev Wolfe