There’s something to be said for being in the room when the magic happens. And that’s exactly the experience you’ll have at 4 Chairs Theatre’s masterful and full-filled staging of Ride the Cyclone now playing through February 25 at the John and Nancy Hughes Theater at Gorton Center in Lake Forest, IL.
Those who have heard of Ride the Cyclone have been pouring in from states like Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan to see director Lauren Berman’s mounting. And for good reason, Berman has taken an engaging, hysterical and emotionally moving script with catchy, peppy songs and created a modern masterpiece.
This is such a compelling and delightful production that every single seat in the theater should be sold out by the end of the run. Don’t be left out, get your tickets now. You will thank me.
On its surface, Ride the Cyclone has a simple premise. Students from a Canadian high school choir are killed during a freak accident while riding The Cyclone – a carnival rollercoaster. Trapped in a netherworld of sorts, the five singers and one other companion must compete to see which one of the them gets to go back and finish out their life on earth.
It is a simple enough concept to give the writers Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond the freedom to let their creativity run wild. At the same time, the notion contains enough specific details to keep the story well-framed and always moving forward.
Words like ‘zany’, ‘outlandish’, and ‘wacky’ are some that could be used to describe the musical. But it can also be described as encouraging, inspiring, and downright brilliant with equal accuracy. Ultimately, Ride the Cyclone has all the key components to be a true cult classic.
Ride the Cyclone was first produced in 2008 by Atomic Vaudeville in Victoria, British Columbia. The musical was well received and went on to a few select mountings around Canada, before being the focus of a 2013 tour throughout the entirety of Western Canada.
COMING TO US
The show had its US premiere at the always impressive Chicago Shakespeare Theater in 2015 under the direction of Rachel Rockwell, for which she won the Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Director. Rockwell next directed the production Off-Broadway at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2016.
Rockwell’s Big Apple production earned a Drama League Award nomination and was named ‘Best of 2016’ by the New York Times. Sadly, Rockwell passed in 2018, but her mark on Ride the Cyclone will live on as long as theaters continue to produce the musical.
A great script and memorable music are two ingredients necessary for a great show, but for it to be a true ‘must see’ hit, you also need a gifted creative team and uber-talented cast. That’s exactly what 4 Chairs Theatre has provided, and the results are incredible.
Berman originally was set to bring Ride the Cyclone back to the Midwest in 2019, but those plans were sidelined by COVID-19 and the shutdown of the country. It’s hard to say what that production might have looked like, but now that she’s finally able to put her vision on stage, the results are magnificent.
While its easy to imagine how impressive a production with a huge set and expensive special effects could be, 4 Chairs and Berman demonstrate that you don’t have to have a huge budget to put on a truly great show.
FOCUS ON TALENT
The set is very simple in structure, but well decorated with just the right amount of flair and swag to give it the personality needed to be an effective platform for the talented cast to sing, dance, laugh, cry, and celebrate life. Both lights and sound for the show are exquisitely done. Standouts on the production staff include set designer Bob Pinta, scenic artist/props designer Susie Mason, lighting designer Rich Torres, sound designer Jackson Letman, and costume designer Victoria Jablonski.
It is the cast, though, that takes the material and the direction that they have been given and gift the audience with an amazing musical theatre journey. While I didn’t see the Off-Broadway production, I would put the members of the 4 Chairs cast against them any day of the week. They are that good.
The cast consists of five choir members, a mystery student, and a mechanical fortune telling machine that presides over the contest to return to life on earth. Appearing to be modeled after the famous Zoltar amusement park machine in the film Big, The Amazing Karnack is stupendously played by Ian Rigg.
Rigg is a Jeff-nominated actor, and his performance in Ride the Cyclone is a testament to why. He provides just the right mixture of being mechanical and being human. Rigg shows why The Amazing Karnack is a role that veteran actors wills clamor to play given the chance. Makeup, set pieces, and audio effects all work together to propel Rigg’s performance even further.
You could not find a better actress than Kirstin Brintnall to play Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg, the class president of St. Cassian High School and an ultimate over-achiever. Ocean is the type of girl who wants everyone to like her, to the point that she is so overly saccharin-laden that her niceties aren’t very convincing to her friends. With the most delightful facial expressions and talent to spare, Brintnall provides a master class in playing queen of positivity type roles.
UPPING THE ANTE
The moral backbone of the tale is Constance Blackwood, played with sincerity and hilarious comedic timing by Rebecca Husk. Constance is everyone’s doormat, the nice girl who puts her feelings aside so that others can be happy. Husk is amazing, complex, and wildly funny. She could easily step into the ‘best friend’ role of any young adult sitcom ala Kimmy Gibbler on Full House, Six LeMeure on Blossom, or Fez on That 70’s Show.
Caden Marshall plays Misha Bachinski, who was born in the Ukraine and adopted by Canadian parents under comical circumstances. Entrenched in North America, Misha dreamed of being a bad boy rapper before his time on earth got cut short. Marshall is an incredible actor, a singer who can shine in multiple styles, and an extremely gifted dancer. He is the total package and I would not be surprised to see his name in lights one day. His autotune lament This Song is Awesome is a true highlight.
Joel Arreola’s Ricky Potts will be a hero for everyone who was bullied in school. In life, Ricky didn’t really talk and so if he wasn’t being made fun of, he was simply being overlooked. In death we get to learn of the stories Ricky made up in his head to escape the disappointments in real life – and it’s a trip! I loved Arreola’s command of the character. He is a strong singer, and his acting is very sincere. At the end of the day, Arreola is simply a likable person with a lot of talent.
In the role of the school’s lone out gay student, Jacob Belovicz is very strong. Belovicz has the poses and attitude of would-be diva Noel Gruber down pat. And, Belovicz does so while still giving the character a level of truth and honesty. This allows the audience to really connect with Noel, making Belovicz an audience favorite.
The mystery character, played by Michaela Dukes, is known simply as Jane Doe. When the rollercoaster crashed, Jane’s head was severed from her body and never found. As a result, her body is never identified on earth, and because of this in the netherworld she is unable to remember who she is or anything about her life. Dukes makes Jane as spooky and eerie as possible in the beginning, but gives gradual insights into the humanity of her character as the show goes on. Her voice is absolutely angelic; she will completely transport you.
BRILLIANT CREATIVE STAFF
As much as Berman is to be praised for her vision and direction, music director Anna Wegener and choreographer Abby Boegh also deserve the highest recognition. Boegh’s dance moves push the cast to their limits, without ever putting them in a position of looking bad. She plays to their strengths and makes them shine – as any great choreographer does. Wegener’s musical mastery is clearly evident in the cast’s performances and as she performs alongside fellow band members Tyeese Braslavsky, Michael Lockler, Michelle Akin, and Paige O’Rourke. It is a tight, well-rehearsed production that zips by.
Ride the Cyclone began trending in social media in 2022 thanks to video clips of one of Jane Doe’s songs. This has created the cult following that has teens and adults alike traveling hundreds of miles for the chance to see a production live on stage in the Chicago suburb of Lake Forrest. And, judging by the well-deserved standing ovation the 4 Chairs Theatre cast and crew received opening weekend, it’s well worth the trip.
Gen-Z has embraced Ride the Cyclone as theirs. Attend the dazzling 4 Chairs Theatre production and see why. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, you’ll thank me.
Ride the Cyclone plays Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 7:30 PM at the John and Nancy Hughes Theater at Gorton Center (400 E. Illinois Road, Lake Forest, IL 60045). Order your tickets now at www.4chairstheatre.org.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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