Who’da thought death could be so much fun?

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Kevin Prokosh

RIDE the Cy­clone ar­rives in Win­nipeg from the west, car­ried on a whirl­wind of spec­u­la­tion about how high this in­die mu­si­cal can go up the the­atri­cal food chain.

Broad­way is the dream, as it is for ev­ery stage show with any am­bi­tion, and based on its RMTC Ware­house de­but Thurs­day night, the Atomic Vaude­ville cre­ation is a le­git­i­mate con­tender.

The tale of the pre­ma­ture death of six teen cho­ris­ters from small town Ura­nium, Sask., in a roller-coaster de­rail­ment teems with life: killer per­for­mances, fresh mu­si­cal num­bers, in­ven­tive stag­ing and an end­less sup­ply of loopy black hu­mour.

If the ride gets rough, it’s due to a story by play­wright/di­rec­tor Ja­cob Rich­mond that doesn’t fit to­gether as seam­lessly as it should. Oc­ca­sion­ally it bounces un­steadily over plot en­hance­ments one sus­pects have been added since its 2009 de­but.

We first meet the mem­bers of the St. Cas­sian Cham­ber Choir in some strange post-life limbo that houses the rem­nants of the Won­derville Amuse­ment Park. Seem­ingly in charge of their fu­ture is a robotic for­tune-teller, the Amaz­ing Kar­nack (voiced by Carey Wass), who feels guilty about not telling the high school­ers about their im­mi­nent demise.

He of­fers th­ese losers in the game of life a de-part­ing gift — the chance to save one of them. Each gets to sing his or her story: think a macabre Cana­dian Idol. How the win­ner will be cho­sen is not really clear, but the rules change ar­bi­trar­ily a cou­ple of times any­way to patch over po­ten­tial nar­ra­tive glitches.

Each of the six saints, as they are dubbed in their town news­pa­per, gets a fi­nal mu­si­cal say, backed by a four-piece band of red-eyed rats, whose mother ro­dent has just about gnawed through the elec­tric ca­ble that is Kar­nack’s life­line.

First to per­form is whole­some high-achiever Ocean (Rielle Braid), who wants the prize the most. This Miss Per­fect brings to mind Glee’s Rachel Berry in her un­re­lent­ing drive to suc­ceed and ob­vi­ous tal­ent. Ocean’s num­ber nat­u­rally cli­maxes with her on top of a hu­man pyra­mid of her com­peti­tors, crow­ing, “What a rush.”

The young peo­ple talk a lot about their home town, where Di­ver­sity Day typ­i­cally in­volved a brief pa­rade con­sist­ing of cherry-cheeked Noel Gru­ber (Kholby Wardell), the only gay man in Ura­nium, Sask., and an adorable Chi­nese cou­ple who were really Korean. Noel’s fan­tasy is have been born in a dif­fer­ent place and time, prefer­ably as a sleazy pros­ti­tute in black lin­gerie and torn stock­ings in post-Sec­ond World War France. Wardell’s sen­sa­tional, steamy per­for­mance gives Ride the Cy­clone its first thrill and con­vinc­ing ev­i­dence that it’s more than an over-striv­ing fringe fes­ti­val hit.

Misha (Jame­son Matthew Parker, who ap­peared on the same stage in last sea­son’s Red) is an im­mi­grant from Ukraine whose du­bi­ous claim to fame is that he is the best rap­per in north­west­ern Saskatchewan. He has an In­ter­net girl­friend back home whom he des­per­ately want to join. His rap num­ber ends im­pres­sively with him in­ter­act­ing with film of her be­fore he joins her on­screen.

Ricky Potts (El­liott Lo­ran) suf­fered from spina bi­fida, but in the af­ter­life, he throws away his crutches and morphs into a Ziggy Star­dust-like glam-rocker in a me­tal­lic lime green cape while belt­ing out Space Age Bach­e­lor Man to a col­lec­tion of ador­ing cats.

An­other high­light is the ap­pear­ance at cen­tre stage of the creepy Jane Doe (Sarah Jane Pelzer), the mys­tery girl who has been aim­lessly wan­der­ing around wear­ing black con­tacts while snug­gling a head­less doll that mir­rors her de­cap­i­ta­tion in the ac­ci­dent. No one knows who she is and Jane is wor­ried about hav­ing no one to mourn her at her funeral. Pelzer un­leashes her di­vine so­prano voice on the heart­break­ing Who I Am.

Last but not least to come for­ward is Con­stance Black­wood (Kelly Hud­son), the town’s nicest girl, who is some­what em­bar­rassed that she is con­tent to have lived and died in Ura­nium. Hud­son is ever so poignant, singing about her lit­tle life be­ing like a jaw­breaker: “It sucks and sucks and sucks some more.”

There is an ap­peal­ing raw en­ergy and orig­i­nal­ity that per­me­ate this 95-minute ride. Di­rec­tor Rich­mond and his artis­tic team miss no op­por­tu­nity to up the en­ter­tain­ment value. Ev­ery pro­duc­tion num­ber is en­hanced with Treena Stubel’s rous­ing chore­og­ra­phy and James Insell’s pleas­ing car­ni­val set. Brooke Maxwell’s songs and ar­range­ments are all over the mu­si­cal map but each con­tains a con­tem­po­rary ur­gency.

Like the six teens, Ride the Cy­clone is hop­ing for an­other life, one as an in­ter­na­tional tour­ing pro­duc­tion that has New York City on its travel plans. A look into Kar­nack’s crys­tal ball re­veals a promis­ing fu­ture off-Broad­way.

Singer/ac­tor Paul Wil­liams went from ubiq­uity to in­iq­uity thanks to drugs and al­co­hol.

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