Think “Survivor” meets “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” meets a dark-side version of “Glee."
A zany, zingy and macabre musical about dead teenagers?
You can’t blame the 5th Avenue Theatre and ACT Theatre for the timing of their Seattle run of the Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond attraction, “Ride the Cyclone.” Who knew it would open at ACT in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a national gun-control campaign led by this tragedy’s activist adolescent survivors?
You just have to set that aside to take “Ride the Cyclone” for what it is: a vivacious satirical romp spoofing teen angst of various stripes, in the framework of a carnival game show in purgatory. You know, reality.
It’s not giving away too much to report that in the first few minutes of “Ride the Cyclone,” a roller-coaster accident wipes out the Saint Cassian High School Chamber Choir — all five members. And then through some mystical hocus pocus, one kid will be chosen to return to life — the one who makes the most convincing case with a showstopper musical number. The assignment, decrees The Amazing Karnak (Karl Hamilton), a mordant soothsayer encased in a mechanical fortunetelling machine, is to reveal not how others see you but how you view your innermost self.
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Think “Survivor” meets “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” meets a dark-side version of “Glee.” (Since these kids are from a place called Uranium City, add a pinch of “The Simpsons,” too.)
True to form, each “contestant” is a pop-culture teen archetype. There’s goody-goody smarty-pants Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (the turbocharged Tiffany Tatreau), who makes Reese Witherspoon’s pushy overachiever in the movie “Election” look like a wallflower. (I’m waiting for a female character who is the best student in her high-school class, but isn’t obnoxious.)
Ocean bosses around Constance Blackwood (adorable Lillian Castillo), the shy-awkward, pudgy and, gee, nicer acolyte who tags after her. Noel Gruber is apparently his school’s only obviously gay kid, portrayed by Kholby Wardell with a flair for withering wisecracks. Rounding out the group are uncommunicative Ricky Potts (Connor Russell), who has a physical disability and is a superhero in his own mind, and Mischa Bachinski (Adam Standley), a sullen Ukrainian rapper besotted by texts and Instagrams from his Slavic girlfriend.
With its tireless and charismatic cast (most have appeared in at least one previous run of the well-traveled, Canada-hatched show) and ingeniously glitzy production design with an especially nifty lighting and projection scheme, director-choreographer Rachel Rockwell exploits the more obvious clichés of the genre(s) but doesn’t rely on them alone.
Co-composers Richmond (who also wrote the book) and Maxwell provide snappy tunes and banter, and keep things lively. “Noel’s Lament,” a priceless fantasy of life as a bohemian chanteuse in demimonde Paris, is a killer number for Wardell, who more than earns his ovation. So does Standley’s double dose of preening punk (“The Song is Awesome”) and swooning swain (“Talia”).
Adding another dimension/genre, and a jot of mystery, “Ride the Cyclone” later swerves into spooky fantasy-horror tropes with a sixth accident victim, a mechanical doll-like cipher known only as Jane Doe (eerie soprano Emily Rohm). Further description would be a spoiler.
Trying to deliver a profound message from “Ride the Cyclone” seems beside the point, and a little silly. But one is congealed anyway in the closing number, “It’s Just a Ride.” OK, we all know life is precious, everyone has their own thing and compassion for others is admirable. But this musical shines most as it makes us laugh, just when we really need to.
“Ride the Cyclone,” by Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond. Through May 20; ACT Theatre, 700 Union St, Seattle; tickets start at $20, 206-292-7676, acttheatre.org