Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Ride the Cyclone
Stray Dog Theatre

Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's review of The Twelve Dates of Christmas

Riley Dunn, Grace Langford, Mike Hodges (rear),
Dawn Schmid, Eileen Engel, and Stephen Henley

Photo by John C. Lamb
Imagine, knowing everything you know now, to have stopped being alive at 18 years of age. How can there be an "afterlife musical," for people who are just lost in the hyperspace of adolescence?

But there is, or there are—at least two I can think of, if you count Next to Normal. (Certainly more if you broaden the definition a smidge.) For the purposes of this discussion, let's focus on 2008's Ride the Cyclone, currently in a new staging at Stray Dog Theatre in St. Louis, which is more like a traditional musical comedy for the first hour. Then it gets unexpectedly magical. The esteemed Justin Been directs, and he has worked out a lot of beautiful multimedia tricks that put us in mind of a Tim Burton movie, shimmering and transcendent in the final half hour.

There are hints of the other-worldly emerging throughout the first hour, with its perky numbers about discovering one's individuality (or peculiarity). The prologue is delivered by a cartoonish, animatronic fortune-telling machine ("Karnak"). The setting on the stage in the Tower Grove Abbey is a ghostly carnival with a small inner-stage to our right. And the three-piece band is dressed as furries. The five kids (six, ultimately) who soon appear died when the "Cyclone" thrill ride they were on shattered to pieces, high up in the air over Uranium City, Saskatchewan. In the telling of their after-life fates, authors Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell prove once again that anything can become a colorful, intriguing musical.

It was an odd night, in some ways: the final dress rehearsal was also the press night, with a fundraising auction before the show. Maybe all that created a feeling of insecurity on stage. Maybe the characterizations will become more dimensional as the production goes on. But, in the rush of tech week, several of the actors seemed to bring little new to the stage that night–they had seemingly reverted to their "default" performance settings, which, while professional and charismatic, are by now familiar. Either that, or Justin Been has finally succumbed to "Great Director Syndrome."

And can you blame him? He's consistently excellent. But here, it looks as if he, like Stanley Kubrick with his scores of retakes, had beat all the Stanislavski out of his actors, so as to keep our focus on his stage imagery, over the acting (Been is also the production designer). Elsewhere, the singing is very strong under the guidance of music director (and head furry) Leah Schultz.

Mike Hodges (who also choreographed) is lots of fun channeling Marlene Dietrich in a big solo number, and he proved to be a real pro, despite very pesky body mic. Stephen Henley brings unexpected pathos to the stage as Ricky, in a song about watching his body die from a degenerative disease, and Eileen Engel adds humor and energy as the bitchy, overachieving teenager, Ocean.

Dawn Schmid embraces the role of a mysterious sixth victim of the thrill ride malfunction, whose physical body lost its head in the tragedy. As the unidentified "Jane Doe," her appearance also marks the long, sustained climax of Ride the Cyclone's genuine stage magic. There are also compelling performances by Grace Langford and Riley Dunn, augmented by special effects which I am loath to spoil. Ms. Langford's delirious number near the end ("Jawbreaker/Sugarcloud"), exalts the wonders of the world, and her intense yearning calls to mind an ecstatic version of Emily Gibbs' graveyard speech in Our Town.

Ride the Cyclone runs through December 17, 2022, at Stray Dog Theatre, Tower Grove Abbey, 2336 Tennessee Ave., St. Louis MO. For tickets and information pease visit

Ocean: Eileen Engel
Constance: Grace Langford
Ricky: Stephen Henley
Noel: Mike Hodges
Misha: Riley Dunn
Jane Doe: Dawn Schmid

The Band:
Piano/Recorder: Leah Schultz
Bass/Cello: Michaela Kuba
Guitar: Adam Rugo
Percussion: Joe Winters

Production Staff:
Director/Production Designer: Justin Been
Scenic Designer: Josh Smith
Music Director: Leah Schultz
Choreographer: Michael Hodges
Lighting Designer: Tyler Duenow
Costume Designer: Eileen Engel
Sound Designer Jacob Baxley