Off-Broadway Review: MCC Theater’s “Ride the Cyclone”

David Roberts

  • OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic


Like most of humankind residing earth side, the six young victims of a rollercoaster malfunction in “Ride the Cyclone” are trapped in a netherworld-like existence either waiting for the ferryman Charon to escort them across the rivers Styx and Acherin or some other conveyance to a life beyond death. The “bank of the river” here is a warehouse chock full of the debris from the amusement park where the young members of the Saint Cassian Choir met their death on the doomed Cyclone ride.

At some time “far in the future,” the sextet finds themselves being addressed by The Amazing Karnak (played with a robotic sensuality by Karl Hamilton) a mechanical fortune-telling machine intent on having the ghostly youth advocate for the opportunity for only one of their number to return to life. That individual must receive a unanimous vote which precludes anyone from voting for himself or herself. Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (played with an acerbic vulnerability by Tiffany Tatreau), daughter of “far left of center humanists,” finds Karnak’s challenge nothing more than a game.

She protests, “First, I don’t know how it is in your culture, but in ours, playing games where peoples’ lives are on the table? Super illegal.” Adding, “Um…and if I just vote for myself, what is the moral? If I chose myself… if I choose myself, the moral of the story is that humans suck.” Karnak’s response is less than comforting to Ocean, “That would be a valid interpretation, yes.” His comeback begins to chisel away at the underbelly of the theme of “Ride the Cyclone.”

Despite Karnak’s protestation that “Not every story has a lesson,” Ocean bravely affirms, “No. Every story has a lesson… every story…” Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond seem to be offering Ocean’s “cautionary tale of hubris” as their musical’s lesson. The competition gives the victims the opportunity to advocate for the opportunity to return to living out their lives and each performance is remarkable and provides its own counterpoint teaching to the musical’s main “lesson” of how to manage one’s movement through the ride called “life.” 

Mischa Bachinski (played with a steely but romantic persona by Gus Halper), Noel Gruber (played with delicious sensuous ambiguity by Kholby Wardell), Ricky Potts (played with a vulnerable and contentious core by Alex Wyse), and Jane Doe (played with an endearing creepiness by Emily Rohm) raise rich and enduring questions in their “entries” and – in the process – exhibit just how challenging it is to navigate one’s way through the vicissitudes of life. 

Mischa bemoans his lack of money and opportunity. Noel raises awareness for the LGBTQ community and the sexually non-conforming. His lament, “Being the only gay man in a small rural high school is kind of like having a laptop in the Stone Age. I mean sure you can have one, but there’s nowhere to plug it in.” Ricky’s physical challenges give him a new understanding of what is really important: “I guess all I have to say is this: if sacred places are spared the ravages of war... then make all places sacred. And if the holy people are to be kept harmless from war... then make all people holy.” Constance yearns to be more than the "nicest girl in homeroom" and celebrate her history and hometown values. And Jane Doe challenges her peers to transcend stereotypes and preconceived "speculations."

Whether all people will be considered holy for the next four years remains to be seen. “Ride the Cyclone” gives the audience an opportunity to address that important question. Under Rachel Rockwell’s astute direction, the cast of the musical excel in every way and tackle Ms. Rockwell’s choreography with impressive skill. Scott Davis’s set design handily imagines the caverns of the human mind and is equally matched in effectiveness by Theresa Ham’s costumes and Greg Hofmann’s doleful lighting.

“The world will keep on spinning/With no ending or beginning/So just take a look around.” The world will keep on spinning to be sure. “Ride the Cyclone” helps us sort out the quality of that particular ride.


The cast of “Ride the Cyclone” features Lillian Castillo, Gus Halper, Karl Hamilton, Taylor Louderman, Johnny Newcomb, Emily Rohm, Emily Walton, Kholby Wardell, and Alex Wyse.

“Ride the Cyclone” features scenic design by Scott Davis, costume design by Theresa Ham, lighting by Greg Hofmann, sound by Garth Helm, and projections by Mike Tutaj.  Musical supervision by Doug Peck and musical direction by Remy Kurs. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Ride the Cyclone” will be performed at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street). It is currently scheduled through Thursday December 29.  Tickets are now on sale.  For more info, visit  Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Gus Halper and the cast of "Ride The Cyclone" Credit: Joan Marcus.