Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

Serving the Southern Illinois University community since 1916.

The Daily Egyptian

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Review: Theatre program delivers eerie, hilarious take on viral hit “Ride the Cyclone”

The musical runs from Oct. 12-15 at McLeod Theater

Life. Death. Love. And a second chance. 

‘Ride the Cyclone,’ a comedic yet profound musical with Canadian roots, will make its Southern Illinois University premiere at the McLeod Theatre this Thursday. 

Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond’s tale of life, death and regrets was first brought to life fifteen years ago at a theater in Victoria, British Columbia. Thanks to virality on TikTok, it has recently become popular among Gen Z audiences, including the SIU student body. 


“It contributed to the enthusiasm that our students here have…for the piece,” director Darryl Clark said. “And not just the ones who are in the cast. I think the entire School of Theatre and Dance…is excited about this work.” 

Clark hopes this excitement will create a good turnout for the production, but noted that it is becoming increasingly difficult to compete with digital forms of entertainment. 

“It’s hard to get people to come see theater, especially now that we’re coming out of a world health crisis,” he said. “It’s very easy to still watch things on YouTube…and so it’s becoming more and more of a challenge to get people to pay to see live theater. But live theater is the essence of what you see distilled in internet or movie form…It helps to be inside of a space, and looking and focusing and enjoying [it] with a whole bunch of other people. It’s just a great thing to do live as opposed to [watching] it at home.” 

The musical follows a chamber choir composed of six high school seniors from the Canadian town of Uranium City, Saskatchewan. The group takes a field trip to an amusement park and boards a rollercoaster known as ‘The Cyclone.’ When the ride breaks and the teens go plummeting to their deaths, they find themselves in a game show-esque afterlife. Run by a fortune-telling machine named Karnak (senior James Medwedeff), the six teens now have the opportunity to compete for one grand prize of coming back to life. 

At first glance, ‘Ride the Cyclone’ is a ghostly take on character archetypes one may see in a John Hughes movie like “The Breakfast Club,” or early 2000s flicks. But as the story unfolds, each character reveals something new about their personalities and ambitions through a series of musical solos. 

The first contestant is Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg, portrayed by junior Malia Jones. Brainiac of the group, Ocean is labeled “the most successful girl in town” and believes her life is the only one worth saving. 

Noel Gruber, played by junior Hayden Hotchkiss, disagrees. Known as “the most romantic boy in town,” Noel longs for a life of despair and fantasizes about becoming a tragic hooker. Hotchkiss’ comedic timing is near-perfect. Despite only a small audience being present for the dress rehearsal, the room was full of laughter during each of his scenes. 


The outcast of the group is Jane Doe, brought to life by junior Abby Ohlau. Jane was a last-minute addition to the choir and did not have the chance to meet the other students before her demise. Because her head was severed in the accident, she can not remember her identity, hence the name; her body was never identified.  

The remaining characters include:

  • Constance Blackwood, Ocean’s best friend and “nicest girl in town,” played by sophomore Sydney Ryan.
  • Mischa Bachinski, a Ukrainian adoptee with a love for autotune, played by freshman Seth Worthington. Mischa is labeled “the angriest boy in town” but his hard exterior is merely a mask for his sweet personality. 
  • Ricky Potts, “the most imaginative boy in town,” played by junior Lucas Reilly. After a traumatic experience left him unable to speak, Ricky is finally able to share his story in the afterlife. 

Audiences are instantly transported to a warehouse containing debris from the amusement park, which ultimately shut down after the accident. The iron girders that occupy the majority of the set resemble the tracks of a coaster, and its lights are similar to those of an arcade game. The ride’s rusted, demolished sign is missing letters. It reads ‘RIDE TH   YCLONE.’ 

Projections are used to contribute to each character’s backstory. While Karnak introduces the characters to the audience, photos of their younger selves are reflected onto a screen that sits upstage center. 

Clark saw the scripted projections as an opportunity to collaborate with “somebody in media.”  He was connected with College of Arts and Media student Day Starr-Fleming (a designer for the Daily Egyptian) and praised them for their contributions to this musical. 

“Day Starr-Fleming has been really imaginative, fun and easy to work with,” he said. “They have brought a great deal of commitment to this.”

Starr-Fleming made the film sequences. Getting the sequences projected on stage was then a task for lighting designer Jaimen Park. Additionally, a guest set designer was able to join the crew for the first time since the pandemic. Students on the artistic team had the opportunity to work alongside renowned designer David Goldstein of New York City. 

Costumes are another element that audiences should definitely look forward to. Designed by Aleka Fischer, each costume is virtually identical but is worn differently by every character, highlighting their conflicting personalities. For example, Ocean’s uniform is neatly pressed and paired with flats. Constance wears her hair back until she completes her arc with a showstopping performance toward the end of the play. A backwards hat is added to Mischa’s attire. 

Much like a roller coaster, the musical is exhilarating. The show is fast paced and full of many twists and turns, but everyone gets their chance to shine. Unlike most musical productions, this show features an ensemble cast. Rather than having lead and supporting roles, all characters are principal actors. The cast agreed that this made the production much more enjoyable. 

“It’s really fun, because I feel like it’s more of a collaborative effort than any other show will be,” Ohlau said. “Every single person has their own moment, but every single person has to show up for the ensemble moment too.”

With their lives on the line, it’s no surprise that the characters struggle to get along. Nonetheless, they come together to support a soloist in every performance, even if it is someone they do not particularly care for. While this would typically seem insincere, the actors ability to maintain their character’s individual mannerisms and traits throughout each number highlights the juxtaposition of harmony and cacophony within the group. When the actors step into their roles for the night, they never step out.

In a playbill review, journalist Meg Masseron described ‘Ride the Cyclone’ as “a gritty, screwed up comedy that has the potential to be either unsettling or thrilling.” SIU manages to accomplish both. The finale (as well as several eerie Jane Doe scenes) will leave you feeling spooked yet inspired. The musical numbers are captivating, and each one features a different genre of music. From pop to ballad opera to rap, this production has something for everyone. 

“Space Age Bachelor Man,” performed by Reilly, is the number the cast is most excited for audiences to see. It allows Ricky to finally communicate his imaginations. In this case, he believes he is a prophet for a planet filled with cats. 

“Personally, I’m excited for them to see my song just because it’s so ridiculous,” Reilly said, followed by nods of agreement from his castmates. 

Hotchkiss added that he is most excited for viewers to experience the overall zaniness of the show.

“Everyone’s unique songs are really cool,” he said. “Because they’re all completely different. For people who don’t know the stuff…it’s gonna be crazy.”

Ohlau delivers a standout performance with her solo ‘The Ballad of Jane Doe.’ She hits every note with ease and sings with unwavering emotion, while the ensemble provides backup vocals and a dance with black umbrellas, resembling a funeral to an extent. The choreography, vocals and props all blend together to create an ominous yet sorrowful rendition. 

The message Clark wants audiences to take away from this performance is one of finding common ground. 

“I think one of the themes that you can take away is seeing a community of people who really don’t have much in common, reshape itself and bond, [creating] something whimsical and funny,” he said. 

The musical also explores the circle of life. 

“There are a ton of [messages] to grab onto in the lyrics,” Clark said. “It starts off saying something about how life is a circle, goes round and round and never really ends.” 

“Ride the Cyclone” is a hilarious and heartfelt journey that ultimately explores the preconceived notion that life is too short for regrets. To experience this journey, you can purchase tickets by calling (618) 454-6000, visiting the McLeod Theatre box office or by visiting the School of Theatre and Dance’s webpage. Performances are Oct. 12-14 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 15 at 2 p.m.


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