Hang On For Dear Life! University Theatre rides ‘The Cyclone’

Hang On For Dear Life! University Theatre rides ‘The Cyclone’

Think about it: In the minds of theater lovers, almost every play can be compared to some other play.

According to director Morgan Hicks, the University Theatre production of “Ride the Cyclone” might be an exception.

“It’s not really like anything I know, but it’s also like a lot of things,” she says. “There are allusions to shows like ‘25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee’ and ‘Plaid,’ in the sense that there is the premise of a competition where the characters fight for their chance at the grand prize — in this case to live again. But stylistically, it evokes so many musicals like ‘Heathers,’ ‘Starlight Express,’ ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Cats’! There is really no putting this one in a box!”

The premise of the musical — which premiered at Atomic Vaudeville in Victoria, British Columbia, in 2008 — is that the members of a high school chamber choir die in an accident on a faulty roller coaster. Each must tell his or her story to earn the favor of a mechanical fortune teller — and the chance to return to life.

“My weird little backstory is that I basically grew up in a soon-to-be abandoned theme park, so this is a world that felt incredibly familiar to me,” says Hicks. “Our scenic designer is the chair of our [drama] department, Michael Riha. He is an incredibly talented designer, and he brought so much unexpected joy to this design.

“We’re performing in a blackbox theater, so our concept was that the audience would be invited behind the scenes of ‘Wonderville,’ the traveling carnival,” she explains. “We walk through the entrance of the park into the space where all of the abandoned and broken and disjointed pieces of the park are stored. We’re surrounded by the discarded remnants of the joy of the entertainments that were promised. Everything feels strange and a little haunted. Twisted roller coaster tracks hang in the air. It is an incredibly creepy and magical environment that is so inspiring and fun to play in!”

Hicks says she discovered the show when it was produced by the Chicago Shakespeare Company, one of the troupes she keeps an eye on from her time living in Chicago.

“I pay close attention to new musicals coming out of there, and when I heard about ‘Ride the Cyclone’ from my friends who had seen it, I knew it was right up my alley,” she says. “The characters are so lovable and the questions that the play brings up feel so relevant and universal. But what sells a musical to me is when my collaborators love the music and feel inspired, so when our music director, Jason Burrow, and choreographer, Michelle Culhane, brought their enthusiasm to the project, I knew we were going to have an amazing ride with it!

“The music for this show is so wonderful,” Hicks adds. “And since the characters are so different, the composers have made the brilliant choice to build that kind of variety into the score. The characters express themselves through their own musical language – which could include sugary pop, rap, traditional folk or Bowie-esque rock ‘n’ roll! There is such a variety of musical styles, and it makes it so fun to see what’s going to happen next.”

Those characters, she says, “are not good or bad. They are human. And they are young. We’ve done a lot of work to approach these teenagers with a lot of generosity and give them a lot of grace. Sometimes they are not as nice as they might be to one another. Sometimes they don’t appreciate everything that they have been given. Sometimes they are hurting, and they turn that hurt outwards because they can’t hold it inside any longer. Sometimes they are funny and silly and so incredibly wise and kind.

“They are beautifully weird and messy and flawed and perfect. In that way, they are every teenager that I’ve ever known — actually every human that I’ve ever known. And we grow to deeply love them.”



‘Ride The Cyclone’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. April 8-9; 2 p.m. April 10; 7:30 p.m. April 13-16; 2 p.m. April 17

WHERE — University Theatre at the Global Campus Theatre on the Fayetteville square

COST — Free, but reservations required

INFO — uark.universitytickets.com

Categories: Theater