Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Musical to Die For

Atomic Vaudeville's Ride the Cyclone, on at Granville Island's Revue Stage until next Saturday, October 15th, is a delight from start to finish, a smart, witty and deliciously macabre musical about the afterlife of the hidden lives of six students in a chamber choir from Uranium, Saskatchewan who perished on an amusement park roller coaster. Returned from the dead by Karnak, the mechanical fairground fortune teller who feels responsible for their untimely ends, each is given a chance to tell his or her story, both the outward image they presented to the world and their secret inner longings.

Thus Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell), the fastidious gay boy who has never kissed another man, sings about longing to live a dissipated life as an unrepentant female whore in prewar Paris. Ocean O'Connell Rosenberg (Rielle Braid), the self-appointed and self-absorbed leader of the group, recounts how she lost the national debating championships as a result of being torn between the conflicting advice of her Jewish Marxist father and her Irish Catholic mother. Mischa Bachinksky (Matthew Coulson), an angry recent immigrant from the Ukraine, raps his rage at his adopted country before revealing (in a stunningly designed projection sequence) his passion for his electronic girlfriend back in Kiev. Ricky Potts (Elliott Loran), an Asbergerish loner raised on a steady diet of comic books, brings down the house when he reveals a secret alter ego as a "bachelor" superhero from a planet populated by felines. Perhaps the evening's most haunting moment comes when Jane Doe (played in white face by Sarah Jane Pelzer)--who was decapitated in the accident and whose body, having never been claimed by a family member, remains unidentified--sings achingly of the regret of having no regrets. Finally, Constance Blackwood (Kelly Hudson), the "nice" girl among the group whom everyone expects to settle down for life in Uranium, reveals her real dark thoughts, including the incredible liberty she feels at the moment the roller coaster she persuades her friends to ride with her goes off the rails and launches them into space.

All six actors are amazingly good, the book and music (Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell) knowing and heartfelt, ironic and sincere, in equal measure, and the direction (Richmond and Britt Small), choreography (Treena Stubel) and set design (Hank Pine and James Insell) polished to symbiotic perfection. My only critique would be the extensive expository voice-over from Kranak at the beginning: the information is necessary, but might it not be delivered in some other way--i.e., a real live Kranak who gets his own song, and who acts as narrator/MC throughout? Something to think about, perhaps, as the creators continue to hone this already very fine show.


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