Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Ride the Cyclone
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's recent review of English

Nick Martinez, Shinah Hey, Matthew Boyd Snyder,
Gabrielle Dominique, and Eli Mayer

Photo by Margot Schulman
Ride the Cyclone is not just the title of the musical now at Arena Stage in Washington. It also refers to the way audience members may feel after participating in this fascinating, immersive 100-minute theatrical experience, which examines life, death, and what may or may not come after them.

Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell created the book, music, and lyrics for this work, which follows the post-earthly lives of six high school students as narrated by a mechanical but apparently sentient fortuneteller (Marc Geller). They are members of a high school choir in Uranium City, Saskatchewan (population 91 in 2021, according to Wikipedia), who had stopped on their way to a performance to ride the rickety Cyclone rollercoaster at a seedy roadside carnival. It isn't a spoiler to note that the coaster flies off the rails, killing all aboard.

The Amazing Karnak (Geller) explains to the audience that his powers include predicting times and places of death for the people who interact with him. In this case, he's offering one of the six a chance to return to life, but all of them must agree on which one that should be.

They are domineering Ocean O'Connell Rosenberg (Shinah Hey), overachieving daughter of hippie parents; Constance Blackwood (Gabrielle Dominique), who lives in Ocean's shadow and puts up with her condescending "friendship"; Noel Gruber (Nick Martinez), the only out gay boy in town and a devotee of Samuel Beckett and Marlene Dietrich; Mischa Bachinski (Eli Mayer), adopted from Ukraine (the action takes place in 2009, long before the current fighting there); Ricky Potts (Matthew Boyd Snyder), who is virtually mute until he gets to speak for himself; and the spectral Jane Doe (Ashlyn Maddox), unidentified because she was decapitated in the crash. Maddox wears makeup and a wig to approximate the look of a doll's head, complete with cotton candy-like hair.

Richmond and Maxwell display their familiarity with numerous genres of music as each character shares her or his story. Ocean is a pop diva who leaves nothing to chance; as Constance confides, Ocean even scripts her improvisational moments. Noel shares his fantasy of being a French prostitute (a woman) driven to destroy both herself and the men who love her. Mischa starts out as an Auto-Tuned rapper before proclaiming his love for an idealized young woman waiting for him in Ukraine. Ricky's fantasy life, nurtured through his love for comic books, involves ruling a planet inhabited by humanoid cats. Jane sings a sad coloratura aria as she floats about the stage. Constance gets the last word, about how things don't have to stay the way they always were. They, and pompous Karnak, are all fully committed to their roles and fascinating to watch and hear.

Director Sarah Rasmussen and choreographers Jim Lichtscheidl and Tiger Brown use every inch of Scott Davis' purposefully cluttered set, illuminated by Katherine Freer's ingenious video projections and Jiyoun Chang's lighting design. Trevor Bowen's costumes are both inspired and silly as need be. Music director Nick Wilders and four other musicians (one of whom appears in a rat costume–it makes sense in context) show their skill in genres from French chanson to hip-hop and opera.

This production is a partnership between Arena and the McCarter Theatre Center of Princeton, New Jersey.

Ride the Cyclone runs through February 19, 2023, in at the Mead Center for American Theater, Kreeger Theater, 1101 6th St. SW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit

In association with McCarter Theater Center
Book, music, and lyrics by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell
Directed by Sarah Rasmussen
Original choreography by Jim Lichtscheidl
Additional choreography by Tiger Brown

Constance Blackwood: Gabrielle Dominique
The Amazing Karnak: Marc Geller
Ocean O'Connell Rosenberg: Shinah Hey
Jane Doe: Ashlyn Maddox (Jan. 13-29), Katie Mariko Murphy (Feb. 1-19)
Noel Gruber: Nick Martinez
Mischa Bachinski/Dance Captain: Eli Mayer
Ricky Potts: Matthew Boyd Snyder
Swings: Ashley D. Nguyen, Wood Van Meter