With professional theater companies around the world wondering what to do about attracting younger audiences, NextStop Theatre has landed on a gem. Ride the Cyclone is the funny, quirky, outright weird gem that most elder Millennials and above missed out on the first time it came out.
The story of Cyclone revolves around (sorry not sorry) a group of high school students from the small town of Uranium, Saskatchewan, who tragically meet their end in a roller coaster accident at a local amusement park. However, their souls are granted a chance to return to life by a fortune-telling machine called The Amazing Karnak (Bobby Libby). Each character is given a chance to perform, share their story and background, and tell why they should come back to life.
Cyclone is a show that began a series of limited runs and tours starting in Victoria, British Columbia, and later in Chicago. The show received great reviews but fell into obscurity soon after the tours.
Until TikTok brought it to a wider audience. Clips of the original runs can be found on the app, with memes of “The Ballad of Jane Doe” becoming viral sensations. Gen Z connected with the lore and characters of the story and highlighted how the show is a chance for different production companies to focus on the message and the story they connect with the most.
This is a show that has the groundwork to become a cult classic. If you are a fan of Rocky Horror, you absolutely need to know about this show. It is fun, it is weird, it is horny. Previous productions of the show have changed some elements of the characters, dialogue, and plot, updating the content with an open-minded philosophy when responding to updated cultural criticisms. NextStop makes some additional changes: Ricky no longer volunteers to sacrifice himself (good change). The overt sexuality is toned down (smart change). NextStop also opts for a more grounded, less campy rendition of the production (debatable change).
And every single member of the cast is phenomenal. Nadja Tomaszewski brings the energy with “What the World Needs.” Sydney “Sunday” Coleman stuns with “Jawbreaker” and “Sugar Cloud.” Carter Crosby, Jack Wimsatt, and Cam Powell also have excellent solo numbers, as any one of these songs is a bop, and this cast returns exceptional energy within a small space. Most impressively, the busy work going on in the background is a delight to witness. Crosby has a delightfully subtle moment where, as the “bad boy” archetype Mischa, he is the first to welcome Jane Doe into the group as a friend.
And speaking of Rachel Cahoon’s Jane Doe. How productions deliver “The Ballad of Jane Doe” is arguably the most technical challenge. Choreographer David Singleton has created simple choreography for a show that is light on dance numbers. Yet for “Ballad,” Singleton performs black-light theater with the ensemble carrying Cahoon up and around in the air. Cahoon never skips a note.
This is a creative team that cohesively builds impressive worlds in small spaces. The set design (Jack Golden) is wonderful: wooden structures and platforms made to evoke a dilapidating wooden roller coaster. The excellent sound design (Zackary Tomney) welcomes the audience as they arrive with the sound of an eerily empty roller coaster reverberating through the small stage. The lighting (Hailey LaRoe) evokes surreal moody shifts between the afterworld and the characters’ fantasies or memories. Costuming and props (Johnna Presby and Ivy Martinez) show this creative cohesion in creating Jane Doe, costumed to look identical to the Raggedy Ann doll she carries with her. And although I would have liked to see costumes that were more wildly evocative of the character archetypes that the show hopes to subvert (perhaps a more glammed-up, rock-star Mischa), the decision to give these characters a more grounded approach makes sense.
What Cyclone provides is a framework and character archetypes for production companies to tell the stories they connect with most. NextStop has selected and produced a delightful, high-quality version of what is hopefully an evolving cult classic.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
Ride the Cyclone plays through November 11, 2023, at NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon, VA. Purchase tickets ($50) online, by emailing [email protected], or at the door on performance days.
The program for Ride the Cyclone is online here.
COVID Safety: Masking is optional on all shows.
Ride the Cyclone
Books, Music, & Lyrics by Jacob Richmond & Brooke Maxwell
Music Directed by Marika Countouris
Choreographed by David Singleton
Directed by Megan Bunn
Rachel Cahoon (Jane Doe), Sydney “Sunday” Coleman (Constance), Carter Crosby (Mischa), Bobby Libby (Karnak), Cam Powell (Ricky), Nadja Tomaszewski (Ocean) Jack Wimsatt (Noel)
Jessica Barraclough (Jane Doe), Cassie Cope (Ocean, Constance), Ethan Hunt (Ricky, Noel), Walker Vlahos (Karnak)
Lucia Lanave (Keys 1), Michael Barranco (Percussion), Nick Graziano III (Bass), Jefferson Hirshman (Guitar), Sean MacCarthy-Grant (Keys 2)
Megan Bunn (Director), David Singleton (Choreographer), Marika Countouris (Music Director/Electronic Music Design), Jack Golden (Scenic Designer), Hailey LaRoe (Lighting Designer), Johnna Presby (Costume Designer), Ivy Martinez (Props Designer), Zackary Tomney (Sound Designer), Connor James Reilly (Associate Choreographer), Lucia Lanave (Associate Music Director), Sarah Strunk (Stage Manager), Shannon Sauliner (Rehearsal Stage Manager/Deck Chief), Mikaela Phillips (Assistant Stage Manager), Elli Ransom (Audio Mixer), Jack Wilson (Technical Director), Sarah Usary (Scenic Artist), Gabriella Trevino-Bandy (Scenic Artist).
First stop for a show in Herndon? NextStop Theatre Company (interview with producing artistic director Evan Hoffman by Lisa Traiger, October 23, 2023)