top of page

Ride the Cyclone - Hayes Theatre Co (NSW)

Book, Music & Lyrics by Jacob Richmond & Brooke Maxwell. Additional Material by Alan Schmuckler.

A thrilling roller coaster ride that often threatens to come off its tracks, but nonetheless delivers a joyous tech-heavy night of theatre with a stellar showcasing of performances

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Hayes Theatre, Potts Point

Until 22nd June, 2024

The void between life and death is a tricky subject to bring into the realm of musical theatre, but it’s not without its successes. Beetlejuice is the most successful example of Broadway and online viral acclaim, utilising its “show about death” motif to exude dark humour and witty puns. Life, as in death, is filled with its hurdles and pitfalls, and the latest viral sensation Ride the Cyclone faces these head on with a musical arrangement akin to SIX and a plot that is essentially Cats meets A Chorus Line.

The Hayes Theatre Co , led by artistic directors Richard Carroll (director of Cyclone) and Victoria Falconer (musical director of Cyclone) continue to bring new, exciting musicals to the most versatile theatrical space in Sydney’s theatre scene. Cyclone fits in the category of new and fresh, and is altogether a very left of centre choice for the pair to take on. With an assembled cast of six superb performers however, there’s little worry needed when getting on for the ride.

Ride the Cyclone - Hayes Theatre Co (2024). Images by Prudence Upton

Pamela Rabe’s lugubrious and sepulchral voice drifts out of an old fortune teller machine with jagged lettering of ‘The Amazing Karnak’ embroidered above its mystical, hooded figure. We learn that Karnak’s death is imminent, no thanks in part to a bass-playing rat gnawing on its wiring. Before Karnak shuffles off this mortal coil, their last job is to administer the fate of six teenagers. All are members of a Canadian school choir who have met an unfortunate demise after the track of The Cyclone roller coaster breaks, leading to a very sudden end to their lives.

Waking in a liminal void in time and space, the six teenagers are told by Karnak that they have the power to bring one of them back to life, but in order to choose who, they must play Karnak’s twisted game in which they stake their claim for reincarnation - Andrew Lloyd Webber may have preferred this plot to his own. Jacob Richmond & Brooke Maxwell’s book, music and lyrics lead us through the stories of each of our teenagers as they, quite literally, sing and dance for their lives. It’s more than often satirical and is not without its heart and humour.

Herten’s sound design is a character unto itself, with Rabe’s voice filling the entirety of the theatre

Benjamin Brockman’s set design showcases a roller coaster track looping from the back to the front of the stage, the broken track connections of The Cyclone coaster heading towards the audience. Those with a phobia of rides, this is your trigger warning. At the back sits a mystical orb shaped screen in which Karnak’s projections and psychic visions are shown for each tale of our ill-fated heroes. Ryan McDonald’s lighting design and Daniel Herten’s AV Design are often in competition with each other, with each battling for a spotlight in the space. Such tech heavy shows are not without their troubles, which were shown on the night, but smooth recovery by a skilled hand quite often allows for minimal interruptions to the piece, which it did in this case.

Herten’s sound design is a character unto itself, with Rabe’s voice filling the entirety of the theatre, as well as vocal projections from the cast allowing for autotuned rap numbers, and alien-voiced sound effects to add to the zaniness of the production.

Where Cyclone comes off its tracks is its pacing, which is at times to its detriment. The performance is muddled, and unsure of how to segway from one scene to the next, relying on fades and some stifled blocking which feels uncomfortably placed in the void which is set up. The jokes in Richmond and Maxwell’s book too sometimes falls on deaf ears, with some lines pushing the boundaries of satire in their deliverance and timing and with not much placing them in the context of why they were there. 

Cyclone, however, is a performer’s dream in that it is more or less a “showcase musical” where each performer gets their chance to shine and showcase their talents. In this, Cyclone succeeds. From Ava Madon’s effervescent operatic notes, coupled with her utmost commitment to Jane Doe as an oddity, through to Mel O’Brien’s superb comic-timing and belts, there’s time to fall in love with each character. Justin Gray’s Lloyd Webber-styled rock and roll chords make him a star in “Space Age Bachelor Man”, while others allow for character performances to shape their tales.

In our mismatched teenagers, we’re led by Karis Oka’s Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg, a high-achieving teenager whose compulsive need to lead ultimately shatters throughout the show as she learns, too late, the importance of empathy, and genuine love. Oka is a force throughout the production and stands firm when in the spotlight, as well as in the ensemble numbers.

Bailey Dunnage’s Noel Gruber yearns for Parisian lust, and leads us through a sex-filled dream sequence in heels. Whereas Lincoln Elliott’s Ukrainian Mischa Bachinski comes to terms with the loss of his life, and his lover by throwing anger and passion to the stage in an autotuned rap.

Ride the Cyclone continues the Hayes Theatre’s dedication to platforming wild productions.

Gray’s despondently quiet Ricky Potts comes to the forefront as he finally finds his voice in the purgatorial void and explores his imaginative world of science fiction in which he is essentially Space Jesus to a civilization of sultry cats. And in comparison, Madon’s Jane Doe leads a haunting beautiful song of the loss of her former life, her body being unidentified due to its decapitation and therefore her inability to remember who she was in the physical world.

It’s O’Brien’s Constance who brings the competition to its end with “Jawbreaker/Sugar Cloud” filled with the most uplifting number of the entire show. O’Brien prefaces the song with an honest and raw monologue of her static lifestyle and eventual love for her hometown during the final minutes of her life.

Ride the Cyclone continues the Hayes Theatre’s dedication to platforming wild productions. Vibrant scores offer insights into the human psyche, led with emotional depth, to showcase some of Sydney’s best and brightest musical theatre performers. It may be messy at times, but the subject of life and death isn’t exactly one that is clean cut to begin with. 


Cast & Creatives

Starring Natalie Abbott, Bailey Dunnage, Lincoln Elliott, Justin Gray, Ava Madon, Mel O’Brien and Karis Oka.

Understudies: Mel O’Brien and Alec Steedman.

Director Richard Carroll

Musical Director Victoria Falconer

Choreographer Shannon Burns

Set Designer Benjamin Brockman

Costume Designer Esther Zhong

Lighting Designer Ryan McDonald

Sound & AV Designer Daniel Herten

Hair & Makeup Designer Ashleigh Grace

Sound & AV Design Associate Madeleine Picard

Stage Manager Bronte Schuftan

Assistant Stage Manager Anastasia Mowen

Sound Engineer Emma-Jade Dwyer

Dialect Coach Linda Nicholls-Gidley

Intimacy Coordinator Chloë Dallimore

Assistant Set Designer Lochie Odgers

Musicians Nathan Barraclough, Gianna Cheung, Jarrad Payne, Patrick Schnur


Theatre Thoughts Podcast Alternative Logo

Theatre News

bottom of page