Ride the Cyclone, Canadian playwright Jacob Richmond and composer Brooke Maxwell's much-loved musical about a Saskatchewan teen choir that dies in a freak roller-coaster accident, will get its long-awaited American premiere at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in September.
Rachel Rockwell, an award-winning director and choreographer, is set to stage a revised version of the off-beat show described by The Globe and Mail's Marsha Lederman as "Glee meets Survivor" in the Upstairs studio at the Tony-winning theatre company located on Chicago's Navy Pier. "It's a cool spot for it to premiere, because there's a big amusement park outside," says Richmond.
Kevin McCollum, the New York-based producer behind Broadway hits The Drowsy Chaperone and Avenue Q, remains on board – and, Richmond says, the plan is to try the latest version out in Chicago before taking it to the Big Apple, presumably to an off-Broadway house.
Ride the Cyclone premiered at Atomic Vaudeville in Victoria, BC, in a production directed by Britt Small in 2008 – and has since gone through many different incarnations as it toured, played to sold-out houses and rave reviews at Toronto's Theatre Passe Muraille, and big-name producers began to sign on.
Richmond and Maxwell have made a few changes again since the last, largest-scale version criss-crossed Western Canada in 2013. There's a new opening number, a new song for the overachieving teen Ocean, and the story arc has been smoothed out.
But the setting of Uranium, Saskatchewan, has been retained – and there's the possibility that one of the original Canadian cast members might even join the new American company as well.
"The first time we did it in Toronto, I was like 'Thank god, it's finally over,'" says Richmond. "But it keeps getting a second wind… It was exciting to be in Chicago and work with everyone there."
Chicago Shakespeare Theater announced its full 2015 – 2016 season on Wednesday – and there was another Canadian surprise in store. Stratford Festival regular Dion Johnstone will reprise the role of Othello in a new production directed by Jonathan Munby; Johnstone last played the part at the Stratford Festival under the direction of Chris Abraham in 2013. For more information, visit www.chicagoshakes.com.