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Beck Center’s ‘Ride The Cyclone’ is a wild ride with amazing BWU talent

When you step into the Beck Center for the Arts Senney Theater for “Ride The Cyclone-The Musical” you find yourself in the middle of a carnival both visually and audibly. You are in a surround sound space of a fantasy world with the sound of a carousel, crowd noises, children laughing and people screaming as the roller coaster rushes past your ears. On stage are interloping concentric circles of lit up wooden track that represents the spiraling path of The Cyclone as it disappears into the distance.

As you look closer you see that this is a run down carnival. The Cyclone letters are unlit except for a crooked blinking letter “E”. The rest of the signs: “Dentzel Carousel”, “Giant Wheel”, “Super Dog – Long Dog On A Stick”, “Moulin Rouge” and “The Amazing Karnak” have all seen better days and are faded, dirty and in sad repair. This is the stage set of Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell’s “Ride the Cyclone” in the small mining town of Uranium City in Saskatchewan, Canada.

We are introduced to “The Amazing Karnak” (Matt Koenig) a mechanical fortune telling automaton. He tells the audience that he was invented in order to predict the exact moment of a person’s death while giving details of that death to the future victim. The carnival has reset his operation mode to “Family Fun Novelty” which limits him to vague predictions and fairground advertising. Karnak reveals his own impending death that will happen when a rat named Virgil has finished slowly chewing his main power cable while biting down on the 220 volts of power that will kill them both.

The show begins with the death of six members of the St. Cassian High School chamber choir whose claim to fame is coming in second in a contest in which they were the only participants. The ill fated sextet have perished on a faulty roller coaster. Following their demise they are summoned by Karnak to a state of limbo and are informed of their between life states. As each teen is introduced, they are given a “catchphrase”. Prior to proceeding to their eternal afterlife they will be participating in a game of life and death. Karnak’s rules are "Whoever wants to win it the most shall redeem the loser in order to complete the whole." In other words, by a unanimous vote one of the six will be returned back to life.

The first contestant is Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (Izzy Baker) a precocious over-achiever who was raised by “far left of center humanists”. Her song is one of her self importance and ego while pointing out that the other teens are far below her in status and education. According to her she is the only logical choice to win a return to life. Her rant alienates the rest of the teens.

Next up is Noel Gruber (Benjamin Michael Hall), the only gay boy in town. As he is singing he strips down to frilly black lace underwear to tell of his dream to become a cold-hearted French prostitute. His reality is that he is stuck working at the local Taco Bell. His song is about living the tragic loveless life of his made-up personality, “Monique Gibeau”. At the end of the song he has a passionate kiss with Mischa Bachinski (Elliot Block) who is the next contestant.

Contestant number three is Mischa who is a Ukrainian adoptee immigrant whose mother died of radiation poisoning during the Chernobyl disaster clean up. While putting the boy up for adoption she described him as “a potty trained two year old”. Instead his new parents welcomed a violent teenage boy with a drinking problem. In rebelling against his new parents he resorted to "self-aggrandizing commercialized hip-hop" posting his raps on YouTube. He has an online “fiancee” whom he met through his social media comment section.

Fourth up is Ricky Potts (Danny Bó) who is the choir’s only mute participant due to a traumatic experience at a young age. In the afterlife, Ricky has been cured of his degenerative disease and muteness. He sings of his 14 cats and his made-up religion where he is the savior of a race of sentient anthropomorphic cats from a distant galaxy.

Next is Jane Doe (Alexa Lopez) whose body was found after the accident minus its head. No family member has claimed her and since Karnak never read her fortune she is an unknown. Rather than dwelling on her hopes and dreams she sings about her despair. She has no idea who she is. Hearing her song, the choir rallies around her to sing her “The New Birthday Song”. Ricky gets close to Jane and gives her a name “he has been saving up”.

Lastly, there is Constance Blackwood (Zoé Lewis Mclean) revealing that she lost her virginity just three hours prior to the accident to a 32 year old greasy carnie in a porta-potty “just to get it out of the way”. She is a young girl filled with self loathing who is frustrated with her “nicest girl in town” tag. In life she hated the town, hated the store her parents owned and ran, hated her school and most of all hated her life. While recalling the moment the coaster derailed, all of her hate vanished and she suddenly learned to appreciate how wonderful her life had been.

With the last contestant song, Karnak changes the rules once again stating that Ocean will alone have the deciding vote since she had the highest Grade Point Average in school. She refuses and convinces the others to vote as a group.

This cooperative effort between Beck Center for the Arts and Baldwin Wallace University Music Theater Program has a double cast (Maverick and Raptor) for the characters Ocean, Noel, Ricky and Mischa. I saw the Raptor Cast during the Wednesday evening performance. They were terrific. Matt Koenig as Karnak gives a stunningly convincing performance with every nuance of a mechanical automaton. Alexa Lopez is scary weird as Jane Doe with her disjointed movements. Izzy Baker as Ocean is the girl you love to hate half expecting an audience member to climb on stage to slap some sense into her. Danny Bó does a fine turn as Ricky complete with gymnastics and accordion playing. Benjamin Michael Hall is Noel to a “T” and is hilarious as he reveals. Elliot Block masters a fine accent for the role of Mischa and does a passable rap and Zoé Lewis-McLean is perfect as “the perfect girl” hiding her contempt for life. Everyone is in fine voice and the five piece orchestra does a great job filling the theater with sound.

On the technical aspects, Trad A Burns’ set and lighting is a marvel. Tesia Benson outfits the cast in appropriate dress and sound designer Carlton Guc gives us a balanced and crisp sound. Lauren Tidmore Marousek does an excellent job with the choreography and the music is directed by Matthew Webb. The show is spritely directed by Victoria Bussert.

This is one of those little gems of theater that if you blink will race by before you know it. The marriage of Beck Center’s technical staff with the enormous talent found in the BWU Music Theater Program gives us an extraordinary evening of musical entertainment. This show has it all: heart, courage, love and music. This is a highly recommended show to see.

The Beck Center for the Arts/Baldwin Wallace University Music Theater Program production of “Ride The Cyclone” will be on stage at the Senney Theater, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood, Ohio through February 25, 2024. For tickets go to or call (216) 521-2540.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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