It’s a good thing Ride the Cyclone didn’t open until after the State Fair. This fall, you can go to see the Jungle Theater’s new show without subsequently having to decide whether to mount a thrill ride... or engage in any of the other, er, risky fairground activities described by the show’s young characters.
The musical, with a script by Jacob Richmond and songs by Richmond with Brooke Maxwell, tickled Canadians for several years before finally landing in the U.S. in 2015. Its opening sequences introduce six members of a teen choir who lose their lives in a roller-coaster accident. Yes, really. The bleak scenario only gets bleaker when mechanical fortune-teller Karnak (Jim Lichtscheidl, in a box) greets them in the hereafter to inform the kids they’ll get to choose one chorister to return to life.
The result is what you might describe as The Breakfast Club in Purgatory. All the adolescents get to voice their truths with individual songs illuminating their personal histories and private aspirations. This isn’t a standard jocks-versus-nerds scenario: Ride the Cyclone zigs when you think it’s going to zag, and then for good measure it throws in a victim who literally lost her head and doesn’t even know who she was.
Director Sarah Rasmussen embraces the weird energy of this piece; it’s the kind of show that prides itself on being unclassifiable. You may find it moving, you might merely be amused, or you might scratch your head in confusion, but it’s impossible not to admire the creativity and sheer commitment behind this production. It rides that roller coaster right off the rails, so hang on tight.
Rasmussen’s Jungle is routinely employing some of the brightest young talents on the local scene, and Ride the Cyclone is no exception. Becca Hart, whose charismatic and deeply considered performances enlivened the Jungle’s Wolves and Small Mouth Sounds, gets to use those talents plus her impressive pipes as “Jane Doe,” the anonymous decedent who wears a doll’s head as a morbid substitute for her own.
Her own ballad is delivered with a production flourish (no spoilers!) that succeeds brilliantly as a showcase of live theater artistry both in front of and behind the scenes. From beginning to end, the ambitious design team works such wonders that’s it’s hard to know where to even begin naming names from the long list of pros who executed this eye-popping show.
Music director Mark Christine leads an offstage band through the paces of a diverse set of numbers ranging from a Weill-style torch song to exuberant electro-rap. In a uniformly strong cast, the women are the standouts: Shinah Brashears is fearsomely poised at the head of her class, while Gabrielle Dominique plays a self-effacing student who comes into her own with a triumphant number that even includes, yes, a flute solo. This wild ride into the afterlife is good as hell.
Ride the Cyclone
2951 Lyndale Ave. S., Minneapolis
612-822-7063; through October 20