Arena Stage is arguably the best place to see exciting new theater in the nation’s capital.
This Friday, the musical “Ride the Cyclone” hits Arena Stage from Jan. 13 to Feb. 19.
“It’s a wild ride of a new musical,” Director Sarah Rasmussen told WTOP. “It’s quirky, it’s culty, it has such a wild fan base. It is the story of six kids who go on a roller coaster and, in a wild freak accident, end up in a purgatory where they are in this contest to see which of them gets to come back to life. That’s the weird setup, but it’s so funny and heartfelt.”
Indeed, the story follows six teen chamber choir singers, whose lives are cut short in a freak roller coaster accident. Stuck in the afterlife, the adolescent singers encounter a mechanical fortuneteller who gives them a chance to sing their way back to earth.
“It’s an intense setup, that’s the frame of it, but then it becomes one of the most life-affirming theater pieces I’ve ever seen,” Rasmussen said. “At its heart, it’s really asking: when our lives go off the rails, as they do, what makes life worth living?’ It’s such a beautiful, heartfelt journey of these kids discovering what truly matters in their world.”
The six teenagers each have their own unique personality. Ocean is a straight-A student with a Type-A personality; Constance has an R&B soul with a goofy sense of humor; Noel offers a film-noir throwback vibe; Ricky wildly pushes boundaries like Davie Bowie or Prince; and Mischa is a Ukrainian rapper — written 15 years before Russia’s invasion.
The songbook features music and lyrics by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell.
“This is a really unique new musical in that we have an amazing live band playing,” Rasmussen said. “The musical really incorporates the best of technology in prerecorded tracks, so it’s got that feeling as if you were a pop concert of Taylor Swift, Beyoncé. … Our opening number ‘What the World Needs’ is such a bop in everyone’s heads all the time.”
The catchy songs are paired with dazzling visuals to create the purgatory atmosphere.
“It’s got kind of a Tim Burton feel to it,” Rasmussen said. “It’s a little creepy, it’s a little dark, but it’s also visually lush. … Arena has done an amazing job of creating this immersive carnival warehouse that has all of the crazy stuff that would be packed up at a Carnival. We’ve got video projections too. … Our costumes are so beautiful but also ridiculous.”
This is Rasmussen’s third time directing the show, having previously staged it at Jungle Theater in Minneapolis and McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, New Jersey. She currently serves as artistic director of the latter, which is coproducing the show at Arena.
“If you love musical theater, you’re gonna love ‘Ride the Cyclone,’ but I’ve heard so many people come out of the theater saying, ‘I didn’t think I liked musicals, but that was great.'”