Sometimes the best shows are the ones you didn’t plan to see. I was all set to check out Shit-faced Shakespeare, when I learned it happened to have a hiccup in its usual schedule and wasn’t playing after all. More or less at random, I ended up seeing Ride the Cyclone, a musical I knew nothing about, at Alliance Theater. It was phenomenal.
I rarely have the chance to see a play where I don’t know anything about it, and in the case of Ride the Cyclone, the resolution of the plot is, as Paul Menzer says it should be, “surprising and inevitable.” I won’t spoil it, as its unspoiled nature let me experience the pleasure of that inevitable surprise.
The premise sounds pretty meh. I keep trying to figure out how to describe the show, and everything I say comes up short. At the beginning of the play, six members of a high school choir are riding a rollercoaster when the front axle bends and the roller coaster shoots off into the sky. The remainder of the play takes place in the afterlife, where a Zoltar Fortune Teller machine tells them that one of them will be returned to life, but they have to unanimously vote on which one. Each of the kids has their “I want” song, to try to convince everyone that they are the most worthy of being returned to life. And at the end, they choose the right–but surprising–person. Nothing about this sounds good, and yet I spent the entire time leaned forward in my seat and whispered, “Wow. Oh my. Yes.” over and over the whole time.
What made it good?
First off, let’s just say I can imagine a terrible production of this play. The most obvious series of choices would wind up in a terrible place. Making the show corny would be easy and wrong. Director Leora Morris keeps the performances honest and clear. I always say an actor can get away with anything if they truly commit to it, and this production was a perfect example of that. None of the actors were commenting on their characters; they were deeply invested in them.
The actors were strongly connected with their text, with each other, and with the audience. The feeling in the theater was that we were all going through this surreal experience together, that we mattered, too. I felt so invested in this very silly premise, and I think it’s because the experience was so integrated.
Usually when I see special effects in theaters, I can figure out how they did it; in one number, an actor was flown and I have absolutely no idea how they achieved some of the positions they did with her.
The lighting and projection design were stunning. I normally am not into projections in plays, but these added so much to the story. They served the narrative, rather than feeling like something added on for glam.
The set was simple–a nearly bare stage with carnival trappings and a turntable in the middle. The way the actors used the space changed depending on where we were in the story–no heavy set changes. The turntable was used just enough to be fun, but not dizzy-making.
And the end was beyond gorgeous. I think that’s all I can say about this show without ruining it. It runs through the end of the month–go see it if you’re in Atlanta!