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Buckle In: MCC Theater’s ‘Ride the Cyclone’

November 30th, 2016 Comments off
Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

If you’re willing to get on the ride, Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond’s new musical, Ride the Cyclone, will take you to unexpected places. Chicago Shakespeare presented the U.S. premiere of the work last year, and prior to that Canada’s Atomic Vaudeville first produced the production. MCC Theater brings it to Manhattan under the deft direction/choreography of Rachel Rockwell.

Emily Rohm and the cast of 'Ride the Cyclone.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Emily Rohm and the cast of ‘Ride the Cyclone.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

The 90-minute show recounts what happens after a group of Catholic school teenagers die in a rollercoaster accident. They’ve arrived in a sort of American Idiot meets The 25th Annual Spelling Bee purgatory, and under the direction of The Amazing Karnak (Karl Hamilton), must decide which of them can return to his or her mortal life.

Leading the pack out of the gate is Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (Tiffany Tatreau), the group’s bratty, bossy ringleader who will say and do just about anything to secure her slot, including throwing her bestie, the apologetic Constance Blackwood (Lillian Castillo), under the bus. The other living dead include the emotionally volatile and soap opera-gorgeous Mischa Bachinski (Gus Halper), the formally handicapped but now virile Ricky Potts (Alex Wyse), the effeminate dark horse Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell), and Jane Doe (Emily Rohm), an unidentified student who perished in the accident and hopes to claim her life and identity back.

Gus Halper and the cast of 'Ride the Cyclone.' (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Gus Halper and the cast of ‘Ride the Cyclone.’ (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

In a somewhat formulaic structure, the kids each have an opportunity to make their cases, but Karnak continues to switch up the rules up until the very last chords are played. What makes Ride the Cyclone so wildly entertaining is what happens within each of those moments. Highlights include Mischa’s epic auto-tuned hip-hop number that eventually evolves into a Ukrainian folklore dance (with captivating projections designed by Mike Tutaj)—trust me, it makes sense when you see it. Noel pulls off a Chicago­-style number in a pageboy wig, while Ricky rocks out his alter ego as an 80s space age bachelor man.

Constance is given the 11 o’clock number, which lights up the theatre with a pop ballad that leaves her on a sugar cloud, spouting lyrics like “I could puke a rainbow.” In the end, one teen enters the light, and with deep reverence we’re treated to a montage of a life not yet fully lived.

Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Ride the Cyclone (Photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Rachel Rockwell, who’s made a name for herself in the Chicago theater scene with a list of critically acclaimed productions including Brigadoon (Goodman Theatre) and Les Misérables (Drury Lane), will now hopefully be on the radar of commercial producers. Her work here is thoughtful and nuanced as she is somehow able to unpack a treasure chest of quirkiness delivered by the authors.

Buckle in. Who knows where Ride the Cyclone may land next.

Ride the Cyclone
MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortelle Theatre
121 Christopher Street
Through December 29.

A Triumphant and Turbulent Brigadoon at the Goodman

July 30th, 2014 Comments off
The cast of Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

The cast of Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

It’s calm waters this summer in New York City as the theater scene rejuvenates for openings this fall. But head west to the Tony Award-winning Goodman Theatre in Chicago you’ll be witness to an emotionally charged production of Lerner & Loewe’s Brigadoon.

The original production opened on Broadway in 1947, choreographed by the iconic Agnes de Mille, and was made into a movie musical starring Gene Kelly and Cyd Charisse in 1954. Admittedly, it’s never been a favorite of mine. The clunky story of two Americans wandering off into the Scottish Highlands to discover a town that only appears once every 100 years seemed saccharine and far-fetched. Enter director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell, who was granted permission from the Lerner and Loewe estates to reexamine the work to make it more palatable for 21st century audiences.

Rockwell has made her mark in the Chicago theater scene with critically acclaimed productions of Ragtime, Sweeney Todd, In the Heights, Miss Saigon and countless others. Collaborating with Brian Hill (revised book) and Roberta Duchak (additional vocal and instrumental arrangements), the trio has crafted a palpable production that honors the glorious musical tradition while tapping into the darker history that serves as the show’s inspiration.

Kevin Earley (Tommy Albright) and Jennie Sophia (Fiona MacLaren) in Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

Kevin Earley (Tommy Albright) and Jennie Sophia (Fiona MacLaren) in Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

The show follows Tommy (Kevin Earley) and Jeff (Rod Thomas) as they lose their way on a bachelor expedition through the Scottish Highland. They discover the bucolic town of Brigadoon, which has spell cast over it, allowing the village to only appear once every 100 years as a means of protecting it from brutal civil war. “Entire clans were evicted from their ancestral lands, and such traditions as the wearing of tartans were made illegal,” notes the Goodman’s artistic director Robert Falls. “Against this political backdrop, the choice of the villagers of Brigadoon to preserve their way of life by seceding form their embattled land becomes not so much a whimsical dream but a passionate act of courage.”

Tommy falls for Fiona (Jennie Sophia), a villager who is helping to prepare her younger sister Jean (Olivia Renteria) for marriage. Meanwhile, brooding Harry (Rhett Guter) continues to pine for Jean though her love is bestowed on her future husband Charlie (Jordan Brown). You always want what you can’t have, and Brigadoon is no different. Harry has his own crush, Maggie (Katie Spelman), but is too entranced in Jean to notice. If that seems like a lot of Cupid’s arrows to keep track of, fear not, Rockwell is a great storyteller and all is revealed in due time.

Olivia Renteria as Jean MacLaren in Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

Olivia Renteria as Jean MacLaren in Brigadoon (photo: Goodman Theatre/Liz Lauren via The Broadway Blog).

Hill’s revised book keeps the plot moving at a quick pace and removes many of the clunkers from the original script, but it is the characters’ storytelling through movement—both pedestrian and choreographed—that revitalizes Brigadoon for a new generation. Two sequences in particular capture the breathtaking journeys of young love and heartbreak. The first is Jean’s dance solo as she prepares for her wedding day. Bestowed with her deceased mother’s veil, the young lass transforms before the audience’s eyes from girl to bride, embodying the whimsical emotion, sensuality and joy of a young woman about to be married.

In stark contrast yet with parallel themes, the second act showcases Maggie in a funeral dance. She grieves Harry, who has been killed in an attempt to escape Brigadoon and break the centuries-old spell. In lieu of a veil, she dances with Harry’s tartan sash in a guttural yet exquisite expression of pain, loss and love. Rockwell’s vocabulary of movement, which draws from musical theater, Scottish Country dancing, Highland dances and classical ballet, is a character unto itself.

As one might expect, the plot cleans up tidily in Act II with a somewhat anticlimactic ending as Tommy returns from New York City to Brigadoon to reunite with his ethereal love. But who could blame him? In a world imagined by Rockwell and her collaborators, it’s a glorious place to be.

Brigadoon
Goodman Theatre
170 North Dearborn
Through August 17

Matthew Wexler is the Broadway Blog’s editor. He has written for Passport, Hamptons Magazine, Sherman’s Travel, Gothamist, Travel WeeklyPrivate Islands, among others, and is the national style and travel editor for EDGE Media Network. Follow him on Twitter at @roodeloo.