Picture “Forever Plaid” meets “Glee” meets “Spring Awakening” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of “Ride the Cyclone,” a new musical that’s been kicking around for several years but recently was revised and mounted in a production that’s sold out its entire Toronto run and generated those hoped-for words on the Canadian musical scene: “The next ‘Drowsy Chaperone.'” Happily, show lives up to the buzz. It doesn’t just have legs, it’s a centipede.
“Drowsy” and “Cyclone” have little in common, except both drummed up a strong grass roots support and managed to engage both auds and local press. “Cyclone” comes from an eclectic west coast company called Atomic Vaudeville, and Jacob Richmond’s quirky book is the key.
A five-voice choir from Uranium City, Saskatchewan, all die in a roller- coaster crash at a tacky carnival. They come back from the dead to offer one final concert, a series of party pieces in which they sing about what their life was like and what they hoped it would be.
The gay guy regrets having bought it before he “kissed a man or went to Paris,” and so does both in his fantasy, becoming a floozie chanteusie (Kohlby Wardell, in a virtuoso turn). The troubled daughter of a bitchy Irish mother and a Marxist Jewish father relives the debate where she lost out, despite her awesome talent, to the world of political correctness (Rielle Braid, avoiding cliches).
There’s also the comicbook geek who wants to become a superhero called Bachelor Man (Elliott Loran in fine form), the Ukranian immigrant who combines gangsta rap with classical ballet (a hilarious Matthew Coulson) and the sweet girl who suddenly breaks out into a gospel song of complete disclosure (Kelly Hudson, who you’d follow anywhere).
Music by Brooke Maxwell manages to be tuneful and theatrical without falling into pastiche, while lyrics by Maxwell and Richmond are always clever and sometimes more.
Show acquires an added edge with the appearance of a sixth chorister, empty-eyed and quiet as the grave. No one knows who she is or how she got there, but when she sings you know death is the real theme of the show. Performer Sarah Pelzer’s empty stare and soaring voice make a great combination for the part.
A fun tuner with great resonance, “Cyclone” is about the demise of small towns, young lives and the dreams of an entire generation, but it gets across its message with real skill. With its small-scale cast and production values, “Ride the Cyclone” seems a tempting prospect for canny producers.