Ride The Cyclone, The Dead & The Half DeadWednesday, January 23, 2013
On Tuesday, Rosemary and I attended the opening performance of Jacob Richmond’s (with music and lyrics by Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond) Ride the Cyclone at the Arts Club’s Theatre Company’s Granville Island Stage. This musical is the Arts Club’s participation in contributing to this year's PuSh festival.
This PuSh Festival collaboration always means that Millerd’s supremely funny presence, a longstanding tradition, and introduction in every Arts Club opening (“turn of all those devices that might annoy your neighbours”) is diluted by “old stone face” Norman Armour, the Executive Director of the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
But it would seem that Armour is loosening up and the usual Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis or perhaps Laurel & Hardy comedy team brought me more than one expression from that serious man’s face!
The musical about 6, 17-year-old teenagers, members of a high school choir based in Uranium, Saskatchewan a one horse no half-life town, who die at the top of a roller coaster, The Cyclone, started with the haunting singing (no words) of a young woman with her back to the audience. But just about there I became confused as this show has a stage and stage curtain that is behind the 6 performers and Karnak, voice by Carey Wass, the carnival soothsayer (who must also moonlight at a middle-of-the-night FM station, he has a soothing voice). The confusion is short-lived as I came to realize that one side of that curtained stage is life, and the one closer to the audience is a limbo between life and death.
The musical then unfolds with the five (and one woman oddly neither here nor there) singing a justification for their existence in front of Karnak who is to decide in an odd unanimous decision, for their flawed existence cut short by the Cyclone.
All five (for the sixth just wait!) performers, Rielle Braid as Ocean Rosenberg the overachiever, Kelly Hudson, as Constance Blackwood, Ocean’s chubby friend, Elliott Loran, as Ricky Potts the member of the chorus who cannot speak or sing, Jameson Matthew Parker as Misha Bachinsky, the not-so-tough Ukrainian knows to kiss other men, and Kholby Wardell, as Noel Gruber, the sensitive effeminate who turns into the most macho while wearing fishnets and black lingerie, have great stage presence and powerful voices.
But it was the mysterious sixth, Sarah Jane Pelzer, as Jane Doe (appearing in the beginning holding a headless female doll) that intrigued me and took me back to a stripper’s stage in Las Vegas, back in May 1983. I was a judge at the first Golden G String festival with fellow judges Tempest Storm and a Las Vegas mafioso with a bulge in his armpit.
We were watching the crème de la crème of exotic dancers from all over the world but especially intrigued by one who wore a cowboy hat to shield her face as her layers of clothing were removed and we were supposed to marvel at the grace and beautiful body. We were simply not interested. We wanted to see the face, not as those into things crude would say, “her tits”.
And so it was with all those five performers giving strong performances I had only time and desire to hear the woman who in the beginning had impressed me with an unearthly high voice. She walked like a zombie and her face was a ghostly made up white. It took a while for me to figure out that if her five companions were dead in limbo she was undead nowhere.
I don’t want to reveal more here except to point out that this is a musical that should be attended by teenagers. There is a message there for all of them, with good music and a good band (besides the monster mash band, the five performers also happen to play recorders, a guitar and an efficient accordion).
Reading the credits of the performers it soon became apparent why Jane Doe’s song was so Kurt Weill-like. Sarah Jane Pelzer as she sings Kurt Weill songs with The Annex String Quartet. This performance was breathtaking.
I was pleased to find out at the end that Jane Doe, back in the land of the living, might help persuade Mr. Armour to smile more next year. Meanwhile let’s get more young ones to attend this terrific show.