Ride the Cyclone - SYNOPSIS

2016 Off-Broadway
Ride the Cyclone the Musical - SYNOPSIS

A headless mysterious girl in a school uniform, sings a song of an unending dream-like state ("Karnak's Dream of Life").

The Amazing Karnak, a mechanical fortune teller automaton, introduces himself as the show's narrator ("Welcome..."[This track is often not featured in live productions, rather is housed on the recording]). Karnak tells the audience that he is able to predict the exact moment of a person's death and formerly could inform the subject of the details of their demise, but the carnival in which he operated set him to "Family Fun Novelty Mode," meaning that he could only repeat vague predictions and fairground advertising. Karnak reveals that he will die soon, as a rat he has named Virgil has been gradually chewing through the rubber of his power cable and will soon bite down on 200 volts of electricity, instantly killing both of them. "As there is nothing more base than death," Virgil is enlisted to play the bass.

Karnak has constructed this show as a "final apology".

After their deaths, Karnak, in his guilt, summons the spirits of five teenagers before they may proceed to the true afterlife. Karnak had read the fortunes of the teenagers from Uranium City, Saskatchewan, but could not warn them of their impending death because of his family-friendly setting. Karnak introduces the audience to the Saint Cassian Chamber Choir and recounts their deaths on The Cyclone, a malfunctioning rollercoaster, while the teens sing about their hometown ("The Uranium Suite"). The five teenagers arrive at Karnak's limbo and are told of their death. Each teen is introduced and given a "catchphrase." Karnak reveals the teens are being placed into a game of life and death, where they must compete for a chance to return to life. Karnak reads a prophecy: "The one who wants to win it the most shall redeem the loser in order to complete the whole."

A sixth victim, the "mystery contestant," dubbed Jane Doe by the coroner, is introduced. She is the same character who opened the show. Since no family came to claim her body when it was found headless, and Karnak never read her fortune, her identity is unknown by both herself and everyone else ("Jane Doe's Entrance"). In the off-Broadway costume and prop design, it is suggested that Jane has replaced her head with that of a doll, whose body she carries around with her. Jane's entrance frightens the other choir members, but Karnak proceeds undisturbed and begins the competition.

The first contestant is Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg, a perfectionist over-achiever. As a child of "far-left of center humanists," Ocean always felt like the self-proclaimed "white sheep" of the family. She tells Karnak that she "has seen enough reality TV" to know what he wants her to do. She proceeds to sing a song themed around her own self-importance and ego, comparing herself to the other teens and pointing out how they all fall short compared to her. She believes she is the only one worth bringing back to life, as she has the highest chance of succeeding in the world ("What the World Needs"). After her song ends, Karnak reveals that the choice of who lives will be made by group consensus. Though Ocean clumsily attempts to take back her words, the rest of the choir, including her best friend, Constance, has been incredibly offended by her social Darwinist rant.

The next contestant is Noel Gruber, the only gay boy in his small town who dreams of being a cold-hearted French prostitute, but was instead stuck working at a Taco Bell. He sings about his desire to live the tragic, loveless life of his alter ego, "Monique Gibeau" (inspired by Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel), who dies of typhoid flu at the end of the song ("Noel's Lament"). After his song, Ocean expresses annoyance that his song did not have a moral. She insists that every story has a lesson ("Every Story's Got a Lesson") and gets Constance to perform an anti-drug improv PSA with her, though it soon becomes clear that Constance's dark sense of humor is antithetical to how Ocean wants her to be.

The third contestant is Mischa Bachinski, a Ukrainian adoptee who immigrated after his mother, dying from radiation poisoning while on a Chernobyl disaster clean-up crew, put him up for adoption and lied about his age. When he reached Canada, his adoptive parents were expecting a "recently potty-trained" two-year-old, but instead received a violent teenage boy with a drinking problem. To cope with the isolating treatment he received from his adoptive parents, he turned to "self-aggrandizing commercialized hip-hop," posting his own original raps to YouTube. His song begins as a gangsta rap track that heavily relies on autotune ("This Song Is Awesome") before transitioning into a passionate Ukrainian love ballad to his online fiancee whom he met through his YouTube comment section ("Talia").

The fourth contestant is Ricky Potts, a boy who was born with an unnamed degenerative disease that left him mute and unable to walk, though in the afterlife his ability to speak has been restored and his physical impairment has vanished (as of the 2023 version of the script, Ricky no longer has a degenerative disease and is only mute because of trauma). To combat this, Ricky developed complex fantasies, based on his childhood spent mainly with his 14 cats, to retreat into, particularly his own "religion," in which he is the savior of a race of sentient, anthropomorphic cats from a distant galaxy ("Space Age Bachelor Man"). In the off-Broadway script, he concedes his chance of being resurrected, but this was removed in later versions.

Rather than singing about her hopes, dreams, and fantasies, Jane Doe sings about her own despair ("The Ballad of Jane Doe"). Jane's headless body was found in the wreckage, and though she was presumed to be a member of the choir because of her uniform, her body went unclaimed and her identity remained unknown following the stress-induced death of their choir director later that day. Her spirit has no memory of who she was. After hearing Jane's tale, the choir rallies together and holds a birthday party for her featuring a rewritten birthday song, sharing a tender moment with each other ("The New Birthday Song").

While Ricky bonds with Jane by giving her one of the names he had been "saving up" in life, and Noel and Mischa connect over seeing each other as they want to be seen, Ocean and Constance finally come to a head. Ocean, still desperate to return to life, hurts Constance deeply in her own self-obsession. Constance, fed up with being Ocean's sidekick, finally stands up for herself by punching Ocean in the breast.

Finally taking her turn, Constance reveals that, just three hours prior to the accident, she had lost her virginity to a 32-year-old carnie in a porta-potty. She says she did it to "just get it out of the way"; however, she backtracks and reveals that it was more of an action of self-loathing. She enacts a conversation she thought would happen when people found out; "Constance the lifer lost it to a carnie in a porta-potty. Why, of course she did." Frustrated with her image as the "nicest girl in town," Constance talks about her family's pride for having worked in Uranium City "since they opened the mines" and that though she agreed with them at first, high school made her think it was lame to feel that way and she descended into loathing. Feeling guilt for how she resented her parents, she recalls the moment the coaster derailed, and how all her anger and misconceptions had dropped away as they flew through the air. Constance shares how she finally learned to appreciate every small moment in her life and love her small town. She laments that "it took a horrible accident for me to realize how goddamn wonderful everything is." She then sings of her love for her life and her town ("Sugar Cloud"). At the end of her song, Ocean apologizes to Constance, "as if seeing her friend for the first time."

At last, it is time for the final vote. Karnak suddenly changes the rules, telling Ocean that she alone will get the deciding vote because she has the highest Grade Point Average. Having a crisis of conscience, she refuses to vote for herself. Recalling Karnak's prophecy, she realizes that Jane is the only one who doesn't have memories to take to the afterlife with her. Ocean says that while the teenagers died young, they at the very least had a life, admitting that she would "gladly take her seventeen years over nothing." The choir support Ocean in her decision and send Jane to "The Other Side." Karnak reveals her name to be Penny Lamb (a character in Richmond's play LEGOLAND). Whether she returns to life as Penny or starts a new life is left ambiguous. We see a compilation of home movies of her new life from youth to old age ("It's Not a Game"). Virgil finally tears through the rubber, killing himself and Karnak before the latter can give his final piece of insight. As Karnak dies, he says the same fairground advertising he told the teens before they rode the Cyclone: "Your lucky number is seven. You will soar to great heights. Be sure to ride The Cyclone."

The remaining teens unite and sing an uplifting song ("It's Just a Ride") before their spirits travel to whatever comes next.

Review: Ride the Cyclone the Musical Lyrics