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Hit musical Ride the Cyclone returns home to Victoria

Blue Bridge is staging a revival of hit show that tackles taboo subject in high-camp style.
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Cast members of Ride The Cyclone, from left, Matt Coulson, Madeleine Humeny, Carter Gulseth, Yasmin DÂ’Oshun and Keith MacMillian. BLUE BRIDGE REPERTORY THEATRE

ON STAGE: Ride the Cyclone

Where: Roxy Theatre, 2657 Quadra St.

When: Aug. 4-9 (in person); Aug. 10-14 (livestream)

Tickets: $28.50-$40.18 from bluebridgetheatre.ca or 250-382-3370

Ride the Cyclone continues to make national and international inroads, a next-to-impossible feat for a gonzo musical born and bred in Victoria nearly a decade-and-a-half ago.

“It was never meant to be a hit,” said co-creator Jacob Richmond. “As a young man, it was not even an aspiration of mine. It was a happy accident.”

Now, after several successful iterations across North America, the musical about six teen choir members from Uranium, Saskatchewan, who die in a freak roller-coaster accident, is coming home. Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre is staging a long-awaited revival at the Roxy Theatre that will run through Aug. 14, the first local run for Ride the Cyclone since 2011.

The upcoming Blue Bridge production comes with an entirely new cast, including Richmond, who is co-directing with his wife, Treena Stubel, in the role of narrator The Amazing Karnak, a mechanical fortune-telling machine. Madeleine Humeny (as Ocean), Yasmin D’Oshun (Constance), Keith MacMillian (Ricky), Carter Gulseth (Noel), Matt Coulson (Mischa), and Anna Van Der Hooft (Jane Doe) also star.

The story of the latter character, who was decapitated in the rollercoaster accident and spends much of the show in a robotic state carrying a headless doll — is one of many bizarre yet affecting plot points its creators grappled with during the writing process.

“It deals with a subject we are all kind of tentative about, which is early loss, in a totally ridiculous but respectful way,” Richmond said. “[Death] is something not a lot of people even want to go near, especially with an absurdist lens. But if we do our jobs right, it’s going to be very joyful for people. It addresses a subject that is taboo in the most high-camp way possible.”

Through extensive re-writing sessions, Richmond and Maxwell eventually found the perfect balance between comedy and camp, heartfelt and harrowing. Ride the Cyclone won Toronto’s Dora Mavor Moore Award for outstanding touring production in 2012, and was selected by the New York Times in 2016 as one of the Top 10 productions of that year.

Richmond said he’s hoping the upcoming version goes out with a bang, as he expects it will be his last hands-on turn with Ride the Cyclone. “It has been such a long process, but lovely on a certain level. After this one, Ride the Cyclone will be just one of the shows that I did. I just wanted to have one more try at it.”

Richmond said both he and Maxwell, who is working on the Blue Bridge production in the area of audio recording, are looking forward to life beyond Ride the Cyclone. The script is now with a U.S. licensing firm which oversees future productions on behalf of Maxwell, who composed the music, and Richmond, who wrote the book and lyrics. “I think Brooke and I are excited about seeing other people take it and interpret it.”

It has been a divine run up to this point, to be sure. After debuting under the Atomic Vaudeville umbrella in 2008, Ride the Cyclone embarked on a successful Western Canadian run in 2013. Chicago’s Shakespeare Theater was home to the U.S. première in 2015, followed by an off-Broadway production in New York in 2016.

Recently, the show was translated into Portuguese; a company in Brazil has licensed the script and will be staging its production this year. The Tony Award-winning Mead Center in Washington, D.C. will also stage Ride the Cyclone Jan. 13–Feb. 19, 2023.

This comes on the heels of a busy 2021 for Richmond and Maxwell, who readied the ­official cast recording for release through Grammy Award- winning label Ghostlight Records, home to similar recordings for The Book of Mormon and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, among others.

Quite the feat for “a silly show about serious issues,” especially one that was originally staged as a one-off, Richmond said. “It was all happenstance, which was definitely the culture of Victoria [at the time].”

The original production’s go-for-broke atmosphere was due, in part, Richmond said, to Atomic Vaudeville, the “Little Rascals, DIY theatre company” he co-founded with Britt Small, and out of which Ride the Cyclone emerged. “We could do anything, because we weren’t under pressure — no one could come in and say we weren’t doing it right. We had total liberty to do any crazy thing we wanted to do.”

When the show’s reputation grew, and more eyes were upon it, the core collaborators endeavoured to remain rebellious in spirit.

“I was surprised when Janet Munsil [formerly the artistic director of Victoria’s Intrepid Theatre] said many years ago: ‘Do you want to do a second production?’ Because I thought it was over,” Richmond said with a laugh. “But we just kept on getting asked to do it again.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com