Musical review: Ride the Cyclone, Hayes Theatre

A Canadian hit musical makes its Australian debut.
Ride the Cyclone. On a dark stage a group of young school uniform clad people group around a young man who has a green halo around him. Surrounding all of them is a circular ladder like piece of design.

The Hayes Theatre has rewarded us yet again with this utterly charming, utterly bonkers and utterly wonderful new musical, Ride the Cyclone

It’s impossible to really define this impish mercurial work as it skips through a variety of musical styles. But it is far from haphazard. Writers Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell with Alan Schmuckler anchor the work securely within the framework of character-driven storytelling and it retains a heartfelt unity throughout, while tailoring each song to fit each story. The songs are all great, and the dialogue revealing and touching. 

Yes, the metaphor that “life is a rollercoaster” is a fairly standard starting point, but the evening is anything but predictable. A carnival fortune telling machine “Karnak” – beautifully designed and realised – is voiced perfectly by Pamela Rabe and welcomes us to this impossible limbo, challenging each of the six delightfully intriguing young characters to tell their story for a second chance at life once their carriage goes off the rails. There isn’t much need to elaborate on the plot, there really isn’t much more to it than that, but it is certainly enough to take us on this ride of your life. 

It is at once black and confronting, but simultaneously charming and very, very funny. The six performers are faultless, and we fall in love with each of them in turn as we discover more about them through music and monologues.

Karis Oka delivers a tightly wired insecure mean girl with a sharp brittle style, Bailey Dunnage adds a wonderful fragile yearning to the sensual strutting Noel and Lincoln Elliot is hysterical as Mischa, his thick accent and sexually fluid masculinity perfectly on point. Justin Gray’s Ricky is a gorgeous mischievous boy next door space sexpot, and Ava Madon is hauntingly watchable as the mysterious quirky Jane Doe. But it is Mel O’Brien as Constance who most often has the audience in fits of laughter or tears, as her unassuming “best friend” trope discovers her own voice. Her comic timing is immaculate and rooted in an honest and raw emotional truth. 

And speaking of voices, you would be hard pressed to find a company as vocally accomplished as this young ensemble. The solos are spectacular and the harmony work is quite honestly flawless throughout. There are certainly no weak links here and each performer takes their moment to shine with the confidence of those secure in their musical skills.

Music Director Victoria Falconer has created a very tight and impressive offering, along with her excellent band. And many of the company add their own instrumental talents into the mix. 

Benjamin Brockman’s design once again pushes the tiny Hayes stage to its limits and wows with its scope and versatility. Shannon Burns’ choreography is crisp and inventive, and Ryan McDonald’s lighting is ambitious and evocative. 

Director Richard Carroll can claim another feather in his cap of inventive new music theatre staging. It probably could do with some tightening up in the cueing and pacing, but this is a very minor quibble – for, despite a few opening night technical glitches, the evening soared and rewarded the audience with the kind of experience craved on a visit to live theatre. 

Read: A Portrait of Love review: behind every great man there is … another one

If you’re interested in inventive new music theatre, do not miss this production. It is visually and musically exciting with an exceptional cast and superb creative team, and is definitely deserving of your attention. The intimate Hayes auditorium sells out fast, so be warned.  

Ride the Cyclone
Hayes Theatre

Book, Music and Lyrics: Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell
DirectorRichard Carroll
Musical Director: Victoria Falconer
Choreographer: Shannon Burns
Set Designer: Benjamin Brockman

Costume Designer: Esther Zhong
Lighting Designer: Ryan McDonald
Sound and AV Designer: Daniel Herten
Hair and Makeup Designer: Ashleigh Grace
Sound and AV Design Associate: Madeleine Picard
Stage Manager: Bronte Schuftan
Assistant Stage Manager: Anastasia Mowen
Sound Engineer: Emma-Jade Dwyer
Dialect Coach: Linda Nicholls-Gidley
Intimacy Coordinator: Chloë Dallimore

Musicians: Nathan Barraclough, Gianna Cheung, Jarrad Payne, Patrick Schnur
Cast: Natalie Abbott, Bailey Dunnage, Lincoln Elliott, Justin Gray, Ava Madon, Mel O’Brien, Karis Oka
Understudies: Mel O’Brien, Alec Steedman

Tickets: $69-$89

Ride the Cyclone will be performed until 22 June 2024 before transferring to the Art House Wyong for a limited season from 28 June.

Dennis Clements is a NIDA Acting graduate and has a BA focused on Literature, Theatre and Journalism. He won the Theatre prize in his graduation year from Curtin University in WA. He has extensive leading role performance credits in both professional and community based companies, and has directed numerous productions for Bankstown Theatre Company and Ashfield Musical society. He is a registered Marriage Celebrant if you want to get hitched, and has also reviewed for Australian Stage online theatre magazine for several years.