Monday, December 19, 2016


"Classy Master"
Stars range from 5-1.

For my review of Life Is for Living: Conversations with Coward please click on Theater Pizzazz.

Please also note that this will be my last review for 2016. During the year I reviewed over 190 shows, some of them part of the 2015-2016 season, which ended in late April, and the rest (116 of them) since May; there would have been more but I sometimes am unable to land press seats to everything I want to cover. 

I thank you for reading this blog and the other sites for which I review and hope to see you again sometime next month. Here's wishing you a Happy Theatre New Year and whatever other holiday you celebrate at this time of year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

115. Review: HIS ROYAL HIPNESS LORD BUCKLEY (seen December 9, 2016)

“Knock Him Your Lobes”
Stars range from 5-1.
When I was in high school and college in the late 1950s and early 60s, listening to “adult” comedy records at parties was a popular way to rouse laughs while making out or getting high. Among those we enjoyed for their convention-busting humor—sometimes sexual, sometimes political, and always hilarious—were Shelly Berman, Nichols and May, Mort Sahl, Redd Foxx, and Lenny Bruce (when you could get a bootleg recording of one of his controversial gigs).

There was also the American comedian-musician Lord Buckley, a former lumberjack, who pretended to be an English aristocrat with an upper-crust accent mingled with the slurry speech of a black jazz musician. His words were an exaggerated hipster jive you might have heard from the Rat Pack on verbal steroids, where everyone was a cat or a daddy-o, you dug things, you did solids, you wailed, you grooved, you blew, you swung.
Jake Broder. Photo: Vincent Scarano.
Lord Buckley (1906-1950), who died of a stroke after losing his cabaret card because of a much earlier marijuana conviction, has been brought back to life, more or less, in a 90-minute cabaret-type act, his persona assumed by actor-singer-musician Jake Broder, who has been doing variations of the work for over a decade, including a 2005 gig at 59E59, where he's presently holding court. Its current incarnation premiered at San Diego's North Coast Theatre.

Many great standup comics, writers, and musicians of the Beat Generation and later admitted that Buckley was an influence, among them George Carlin, Dizzy Gillespie, Bob Dylan, and Tom Waits, George Harrison, Ken Kesey, and Robin Williams.
Jake Broder. Pboto: Vincent Scarano.
Buckley had to have been one hip cat to turn these guys on but I myself never dug his stuff; too square, I guess. I went to His Royal Hipness hoping to get hip to his groove, but the show didn’t give me the solid I was hoping for. His material, at least as contemporized by Broder, is leaden, and the hipster lingo of half a century ago, with which the show’s obsessed, seems as dated as stereos and old LP comedy records. 

His Royal Hipness is not all Lord Buckley’s domain. Backing Broder is a terrific three-piece band of drums (Daniel Glass), bass (Brad Russell), and piano (Mark Hartman), and they blow some really hot licks of familiar standbys. The music—referencing Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and the like—is the best part of the show, which also includes, as an emcee/sidekick, Michael Lanahan, tall, slim, bespectacled, crew cut, and very period in his “Mad Men” suit. He reads the barely amusing “Hip News” at various intersections, and ably sings along with Lord Buckley on several tunes, like a hopped-up “Sunny Side of the Street.”
Jake Broder. Photo: Vincent Scarano.
As Lord Buckley, the hardworking Broder stands before a mic dressed in the white tie and tails sometimes affected by Buckley. He looks nothing like the original, carries a half-smoked joint in one hand, and doesn’t bother to sport Buckley's carefully waxed and pointed mustache or wear his familiar pith helmet. He narrates stories in what he calls “the semantic of the hip,” which allows him to tell familiar tales, like A Christmas Carol, by “Chazzy D,” or Robert Browning’s “The Pied Piper of Hamelin,” in jazzy jargon  (he famously calls Jesus “the Nazz”) so you can graduate Magna Cum Swingy from the University of Hip.

In one of his classic bits, he translates into hip “The Gettysburg Address,” as Lanahan, dressed in comical Lincoln top hat and beard, recites it. Beginning “Four big licks and seven licks ago,” it’s no longer very funny nor was it ever in the best of taste (if you’re really down with what the words say), even if Lincoln (“Lanky Linc”) was one of Buckley’s favorite cats. Another Buckley classic here is “The Hip Gahn,” about that “divine swinger,” Mahatma Gandhi. I'm afraid its swung its last swing.

As Broder/Buckley speaks, his narratives are constantly highlighted by music, moments which he accentuates with snapping fingers, sound effects, and body language. When he’s not speaking, he’s singing, often abandoning the lyrics for bebop or scat; he also displays proficiency on the sax and piano. His singing of “Georgia on My Mind,” in a tribute to Ray Charles, sharply turns the mood serious just before the intermission as he inserts dialogue about a Georgia lynching (it’s not, however, “The Black Cross” poem that, reportedly, deeply affected Bob Dylan).

Throughout the show, the most obvious target is that currently most obvious of targets, the president-elect, at least for a liberal audience; think Scrooge, for example, for an attack on parsimony; or the Mayor of Hamelin, who refuses to pay the piper for his work; or a Walt Whitman verse that goes, “I celebrate myself.” Buckley may be hip but he's not Bill Maher, Steven Colbert, Samantha Bee, Jon Stewart, or Seth Myers. 

On the other hand, for all its Trump-bashing, the show trumpets a message of love, and Buckley even imagines himself being named Secretary of Love. And why not? It would make more sense than the Donald's other picks.


59E59 Theaters
59 E. 59th St., NYC
Through January 1

Friday, December 9, 2016

114. Review: A BRONX TALE (seen December 8, 2016)

“All That Chazz”
Stars range from 5-1.
You won’t hear the name Chazz in A Bronx Tale; all the same, the central character, Calogero Lorenzo Anello, is based on the youth of writer-actor Chazz Palminteri, born Calogero Lorenzo Palminteri. In 1988, seeking to get his struggling acting career on track, he created a pasta fazool of a one-man play called A Bronx Tale, in which he played 35 characters. Its LA production was so successful it moved to New York in 1989, became a hit, and then was directed by Robert De Niro as a 1993 movie, in which Palminteri and De Niro costarred. In 2007, Palminteri revived the original on Broadway.

Nick Cordero, Hudson Loverro, and company. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Hudson Loverro, Richard H. Blake. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Rory Max Kaplan, Keith White, Dominic Nolfi, Joe Barbara, Hudson Loverro, Cary Tedder. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Now, with De Niro sharing staging honors with musical comedy maven Jerry Zaks, and with Palminteri writing the book, Alan Menken (Little Shop of Horrors) the music, and Glenn Slater (School of Rock) the lyrics, what began as a solo effort has been blown up (so to speak) into a 30-performer Broadway musical, which world premiered at the Paper Mill Playhouse. Much of it is raucously enjoyable—it received a sincere standing ovation—and the heart of Palminteri’s original remains intact, but its soul seems compromised by the window dressing of a big-budget production.
Bobby Conte Thornton. Photo: Joan Marcus.
This, you may recall, is the story—set in 1960 and 1968—of Calogero, son of a bus driver, Lorenzo (Richard H. Blake, solid and big-voiced in the De Niro role), and homemaker Rosina (Lucia Gianetta, lovely but underused), growing up in the Belmont section of the Bronx, an Italian-American enclave bordering Belmont Avenue. Nearby, in their own ghetto, is the African-American community bounded by Webster Avenue. Racial tensions between the neighborhoods are high even though both send their kids to Roosevelt High School.
Bobby Conte Thornton, Luciana Gianetta. Photo: Joan Marcus.
The tale is narrated by the grown-up Calogero (long, lean Bobby Conte Thornton, making a strong Broadway debut), beginning when a shooting is witnessed by his nine-year-old self, played by the gifted Hudson Loverro. (Wait till you see him rock “I Like It” like a pint-sized Elvis.) The shooter is local mafioso Sonny (Nick Cordero, perfectly recreating another swaggering, Palminteri movie tough guy, as he did in the Broadway musical of Bullets over Broadway); when questioned by the cops, Calogero refuses to finger Sonny, his godlike idol.
Hudson Loverro, Richard H. Blake, Lucia Giannetta. Photo: Joan Marcus.
This endears him to the powerful hood, who takes him under his wing, and, in a world where every wiseguy has a nickname, dubs him “C.” The friendship precipitates a crucial conflict between C’s incorruptible, hardworking dad and the dangerous, racketeering Sonny over what’s best for Calogero, who’s torn between the values of the two men he loves most.
Nick Cordero, Richard H. Blake. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Eight years later, C (Thornton) is a high school punk, hanging out with his even punkier crew, when he falls for Jane (Ariana Debose, appealing), a beautiful black classmate. This opens the door for a look at the racially charged biases of both sides (very West Side Story), but especially at the brutally violent bigotry of C’s greaser friends. Sonny is still a potent force in C’s life, but C will learn even more life lessons when fate catches up with his charismatic mentor.
Richard H. Blake, Bobby Conte Thornton, Nick Cordero, and company. Photo: Joan Marcus.
There are thus two plots here: Act One: a tug of love with C being pulled in two directions between Lorenzo and Sonny. Act Two: racial conflict based on C’s love for Jane. Do they mesh? Just barely. Are there extraneous things? Yes. Like the unconvincing scene when bikers crash Sonny’s hangout. For all that, one leaves with a sense that what began as a one-man show has ballooned out of proportion to the material that inspired it.
Gilbert L. Bailey II, Bradley Gibson, Ariana DeBose, Trista Dollison, Christina Pitts. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Beowulf Borritt’s set, terrifically lit with reddish hues by Howell Binkley, consists mainly of towering units representing tenement segments, fire escapes, shopfronts, and all, that can be swiftly moved into differing arrangements. On it, De Niro and Zaks (the latter having directed the original’s 2007 revival) create a colorful world dominated by the usual suspects; their casting is spot on.

We meet mugs like JoJo the Whale (Michael Barra), all 400 pounds of him; Frankie Coffeecake (Ted Brunetti), named for his pockmarked face; and Tony-Ten-To-Two (Paul Salvatoriello), whose feet are always in that position. One of the best moments comes when C introduces these goombahs while lights flash and a shutter clicks as if they’re posing for mug shots.
Trista Dollison, Ariana DeBose, Christina Pitts. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Sergio Trujillo choreographs cool dance sequences but more would be welcome. William Ivey Long’s costumes aren’t always helpful, though; why, for example, is nice-girl, high-school-student Jane dressed in a hooker-like miniskirt and high heels when we meet her? The skirt, maybe. The heels?

Performed with pumped up gusto for a fast-moving two hours, only occasionally stopping to catch its breath, the show, with its saucy profanity and comical sexual allusions (“she likes the pepperoni so she ain’t fit for matrimony” goes one fellatio-related line), isn’t for audiences seeking Disney-type entertainment.
Bobby Conte Thornton, Nick Cordero. Photo: Joan Marcus.
About two-thirds of the easy-listening but generally uninspired score reflects the kind of music popular back in the day, mostly Doo-wop, R&B, Sinatraesque balladry, golden oldies Rock ‘n Roll, and Motown, but the rest resembles generic Broadway show tunes. The schmaltzy throwback, “Look to Your Heart,” sung by Lorenzo to Calogero, and reprised by Rosina, serves as a thematic throughline, while “Nicky Machiavelli,” advocating fear over love, has a different point of view.
Bobby Conte Thornton, Nick Cordero, and company. Photo: Joan Marcus.

As a postscript, it might be noted for those who believe in the theatre as an instructive force that, in 2005, Lillo Brancato, Jr., the actor who played the older Calogero in the film version, was involved in a Bronx burglary during which a police officer was killed. His accomplice was sentenced to life in prison and Brancato was sent away for ten years. Perhaps one day he’ll offer a Bronx tale of his own.


Longacre Theatre
220 W. 48th St., NYC
Open run

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

112. Review: RANCHO VIEJO (seen December 5, 2016)

“After the Sprawl”

Stars range from 5-1.

Rancho Viejo, the title of Dan LeFranc’s well-acted but otherwise troubled domestic comedy at Playwrights Horizons, refers to a typically faceless community in the suburban  sprawl of Southern California, apparently close to both desert cacti and roaring surf. The houses are more or less copies of one another, and the people in them, for all their superficial differences, are pretty much cut from the same stock.

Julia Duffy, Mark Blum, Mark Zeisler. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Rancho Viejo is a needlessly long play, three hours to be exact, played out over three acts with two intermissions that give bored, uninterested, or puzzled playgoers ample opportunity to leave. For the first two acts we’re in a pastel-painted living room, with bare walls, a huge sectional, and sliding doors leading to a sandstone patio. Dane Laffrey’s set and Matt Frey’s lighting perfectly capture this innocuous environment.
Julia Duffy, Mark Blum, Mark Zeissler, Mare Winningham. Photo: Joan Marcus.
At first, it serves as the home of an insipid, childless, middle-aged couple, the nerdy Pete (Mark Blum, at the top of his game) and the plain-Jane Mary a.k.a. Mare (Mare Winningham, believably sincere); Winningham actually has a bit about why Mary hates being called Mare.

The set remains the same when the action shifts to the home of the snide, attractive Patti (the excellent Julia Duffy, with her electric shock of great white hair) and her dude-this-and-dude-that, ex-surfer spouse, Gary (Mike Zeisler, stoner cool). It then becomes the home of another couple—go-to tech guy Leon (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, nicely laid back), the only black character, and his live-in companion, the foxy Suzanne (Lusia Strus, with a voice that could cut diamonds). Suzanne's suffering from a “hole” in her eye that becomes a running joke. Jessica Pabst’s casual couture captures each of these people with spot-on accuracy.
Mare Winningham, Mark Blum, Ruth Aguilar, Lusia Strus. Photo: Joan Marcus.
It’s all mildly reminiscent of an Alan Ayckbourn play, emphasizing the uniformity of taste among the homogenized folks of Rancho Viejo; on the other hand, you can be forgiven for not always being sure whose house you’re in. LeFranc extracts some irony from this when someone says, “Hey, what do you think of their house?” or “Do you love it? Do you wish you lived here?”
Mark Zeissler, Julia Duffy, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Lusia Strus, Ethan Dubin. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Also involved are Mike (Bill Buell), forever stuffing snacks into a Ziploc bag, and his Guatamalan wife, Anita (Ruth Aguilar), who speaks only in rapid-fire Spanish (which takes up too much stage time) as her linguistically-challenged husband struggles to interpret. Then there’s an odd, android-like teenager, Tate (Ethan Dugar), friend to one of the couples, whose mysterious presence remains just that to the end. Finally, there’s Suzanne and Leon’s scene-stealing pooch, Mochi (Marti, trained by the great William Berloni), and the stuffed giraffe he chews on.
Mark Blum, Mare Winningham, Marti, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson. Photo: Joan Marcus.
A couple of minutes into the play, Pete asks Mary, “Are you . . . Are you happy?,” which sets up the play’s flimsy philosophical creds as it examines the “why-are-we-here?” lives of its comfortably well-off couples. The men—professions unmentioned—are retired but Suzanne and Patti are real estate agents whose rivalry is a passing subtheme.
Mark Blum, Mare Winningham. Photo: Joan Marcus.
What plot there is emerges inch by inch from the characters’ get-togethers (what else is there to do in this suburban wasteland?) at one another’s homes as they get to know each other, although no one cares much about bringing the newly arrived Pete and Mary into the circle. It’s a stultifying place, where TV and a local art fair seem the limits of a cultural worldview, and where Mary’s idea of a must-see artist is a guy who paints whales.
Julia Duffy, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Mare Winningham, Mark Blum, Ruth Aguilar, Lusia Strus, Mark Zeissler, Ethan Dubin, Bill Buell. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Gary, who’s writing a book in which he conveys his ideas through food metaphors (“foods for thoughts,” he says), describes his feelings when reading his son’s “weird books”: “like you’re sitting out there in the water for hours with nothing happening. . . I mean nothing’s happening out there. . . for hours . . . but then if you’re patient suddenly it’s like the waves come rolling in one after the other just rolling in and rolling in and . . .”
Bill Buell, Mark Zeissler, Lusia Strus, Tyrone Mitchell Hendrson, Mare Winningham, Ruth Aguilar. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Whether the big wave he’s alluding to is worth waiting for is something else. LeFranc’s central action circles around the irritatingly naïve Pete, who takes everyone’s problems too seriously, being so disturbed about the marital breakup of Gary and Patti’s son, Richie, that he can’t resist poking his nose into the affair, with comical results. Subplots, if you can call them that, include a phone that rings every morning from an unidentified caller, and the disappearance of Mochi into the night, where coyotes can be heard howling.

Acts One and Two are in conventional sitcom mode, garnering a fair quantity of laughter with the help of director Daniel Aukin’s nicely calibrated timing; many will expect more of the same in Act Three, perhaps further intensified by revelations stemming from the Richie and Mochi situations. Instead, the living room set is abandoned and a series of scenes, several bordering on the bizarre, appear against a black background used with variations for multiple new locations; the humor now leans increasingly toward absurdist situations and punchlines bordering on nonsequiturs.

There’s also a good deal of unnecessary, unfunny business (and a distracting, timewasting scene-change using multiple stagehands in hazmat-like black outfits) that could be easily chucked to send us home at a more reasonable time. In fact, the entire first third of Act Three could get lost and wouldn’t be missed as much as Mochi is.
Mark Blum, Ethan Dubin, Photo: Joan Marcus.
Rancho Viejo occasionally attempts to introduce meaningful discourse into its dialogue, including references to the effect of art on people’s lives, and there are scattered bits of amusing banality that highlight LeFranc's take on the emptiness of his characters’ existence. These, though, mostly amount to window dressing on a play that takes a long time to say a lot about very little.


Playwrights Horizons
416 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through December 23

111. Review: ALLIGATOR (seen December 1, 2016)

“This Gator Needs Aid”
Stars range from 5-1.

If you’re an avid New York theatregoer excited about the arrival of another quality Off-Broadway venue, it may prove enough of an incentive to visit the new Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre way west on 53rd Street for the world premiere of Hilary Bettis’s Alligator, produced by New Georges (in collaboration with the Sol Project), a company devoted to supporting women theatre artists. 

Dakota Granados, Lindsay Rico. Photo: Heather Phelp-Lipton. 
This attractive black box is upstairs in a newly renovated office building and reached by one of the largest passenger elevators around.

On the other hand, you may be less than excited about Alligator, the play chosen for the Gural’s first production. Set in the Florida Everglades in 1999, it gives you not only an actor stomping around in the role of an alligator named Rex, huge head and all (Jessica Scott made it), but sexual deviance, murder, sex with a minor, fellatio, doggy-style sex, foul language, painful imagery, nonstop boozing, vomiting, and eyeballs torn out as you watch. The audience itself is asked to squeal like pigs in a slaughterhouse. Despite all this, and even with a wrestling match between a young woman and a gator, Alligator proves a rather toothless creature.
Bobby Moreno, Lindsay Rico. Photo: Heather Phelps-Lipton.
All the humans we meet are teenagers, beginning with the grimy backwoods (or should that be backswamp?) twins, the alcoholic Emerald (Lindsay Rico), and her protective brother, Ty (Dakota Granados), orphans who inherited their parents’ roadside gator wrestling show after they died in a car crash. Ty does the wrestling; Em wants to do it too but Ty won’t let her. Also involved is 16-year-old “searcher” Lucy (Talene Monahan), a vagabond runaway who crawls out of the glade and wants nothing more than to become Emerald’s friend, even using sex to procure alcohol (Lagavulin, in particular) for her.
Lindsay Rico, Dakota Granados. Photo: Heather Phelps-Lipton.
Then there’s the innocent Merick (Samuel H. Levine), son of the local pool hall’s roughneck proprietor, who’s about to leave the military fantasies of his video games for Marine boot camp, and his skinny, blond girlfriend, Diane, who refuses to have sex with him until they’re married. Finally, we have the African-American high school football star, Danny (Julian Elijah Martinez), now playing college ball; he brags (like someone else we can name) of the sexual conquests his exploits inspire.
Samuel H. Levine, Lexi Lapp. Photo: Heather Phelps-Lipton,
Sex, gay, straight, and in between, is on everyone’s minds, and everyone’s got secrets, some of which, when revealed, are absurd enough to be laughable (wait till you hear Diane’s). The language couldn’t be cruder, the accents are thicker than alligator hide, and violence is always imminent (boys down here enjoy driving through the glades and running over raccoons). Grittily realistic as everything is, an aura of the unreal hovers, especially when, midway through, Rex makes his dramatic appearance, after which he either speaks with portentous cynicism or lurks in the shadows, where his menacing jaws slowly open and close.
Julian Elijah Martinez (foreground). Photo: Heather Phelps-Lipton.
Rex, be it noted, is played by the talented Bobby Moreno, so good a couple of seasons back in EST’s Year of the Rooster, in which he also played the titular animal; here, apart from a lengthy, well-rendered speech about pigs in an abattoir and his athletic grappling in that wrestling bout, he's notably underused, his face hidden under that reptilian mask.
Lindsay Rico, Bobby Moreno. Photo: Heather Phelps-Moreno.
Themes of friendship, love, and trust are on the playwright’s mind (the alligator, ironically, provides a metaphoric standard), but they’re as muddled as the characters, none of whom is credible. Nor is there much believability in Elena Araoz’s staging, which, for all its use of moody lighting and live rock music, is limited by an unevenly accented cast unable to break through their roles’ conventionality.
Julian Elijah Martinez, Talene Monahan. Photo: Heather Phelps-Lipton.
The most effective contribution is made by the music, written by Daniel Ocanto, Graham Ulicny, and Sean Smith. It comes from a band Bettis calls the Furies (who have a more active role in the script than in the production), and is played from behind the slatted upstage wall that can open like barn doors and serves, along with a similarly slatted unit in one corner of the room, as the unit set.

That set, designed by Arnulfo Maldonado, is dominated by a circular pool, like one with its fountain removed and containing an inch of water. Its presence makes sense only at the end, during an extensive gator wrestling scene (staged by Unkle Dave’s Fight-House), but Araoz nonetheless stages lots of other business in it during which water gets meaninglessly splashed around (front row seats have printed warnings). One can almost see the budget item for waterproofing the actors’ shoes.
Lindsay Rico (foreground), Talene Monahan, Bobby Moreno. Photo: Heeather Phelps-Lipton.
Alligator is highly episodic so Araoz depends mainly on lighting designer Amith Chandrashaker for changes of locale, but this only increases the sense of monotony and sameness pervading the production. For all the physical action, the work is more static than dynamic, and finding anyone to care for (aside, perhaps, from Merick) is as difficult as sitting through this overlong, two-hours-and-20-minute side trip into the fetid Florida swamps.


Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre
502 W. 53rd St., NYC

Sunday, December 4, 2016

110. Review: RIDE THE CYCLONE (seen December 3, 2016)

“The Roller Coaster of Life”
While many disappointed voters may be considering moving to Canada, Canada has just made a move here in the form of a mostly appealing new Off-Broadway musical, Ride the Cyclone, which premiered in Victoria, BC, and played in Chicago before settling in at the Lucille Lortel in an MCC Theater production. Inventively directed and choreographed by Chicagoan Rachel Rockwell, who also staged its earlier versions, it takes us to a dilapidated warehouse (well-designed by Scott Davis and lit by Greg Hoffmann), where the spooky remnants of an old-time amusement park are stored.
Company of Ride the Cyclone. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Upstage, a proscenium suggesting the entrance to a tunnel of love contains a curtain used for the extensive videos designed by Mike Tutaj. Segments of a roller coaster are integrated into the environment and, down left, is a carnival fortune-telling booth. Sitting inside is an eerie, automated fortune teller, with turban and glowing eyes, a crystal ball between his artificial hands, as he narrates and controls the odd events. Giving it life is actor Karl Hamilton, who isn’t seen until the curtain calls.
KholbyWardell, Lillian Castillo, Alex Wyse, Tiffany Tatreau, Gus Halper. Photo: Joan Marcus.
That he’s called the Amazing Karnak—remember Johnny Carson’s hilarious Carnac the Magnificent?—suggests that book writers Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond, who also wrote the music and lyrics, have a bit too heavy a thumb on the comedy scale, which the rest of the show often bears out. Fortunately, the songs, performances, and staging go a long way toward compensating for the clichéd humor (although others, like the continually giggling woman next to me, might beg to differ).  
Gus Halper. Photo: Joan Marcus.
The whimsically campy work (which every critic and his sister likens to The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) rests on a rather chilling premise: six distinctively different but nevertheless stereotypical high school kids, members of Uranium City, Saskatchewan’s St. Cassian High School’s third-rate Chamber Choir, were killed while riding the eponymous roller coaster when an axle broke.
Alex Wyse. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Brought back by Karnak’s powers, they are the all-about-me, overachieving Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (Tiffany Tatreau, of the Chicago company, replacing Taylor Louderman, who quit because of “creative differences”); her pal, the overweight, insecure Constance Blackwood (Lillian Castillo, a powerhouse when she lets down her crinkly hair for “Sugarcloud”); the sexy, crotch-clutching, Ukranian hip-hopper, Mischa Bachinsky (Gus Halper, resembling a young Kevin Bacon); the handicapped nerd Ricky Potts (Alex Wyse), whose inner person is a galactic superhero with lighted cat ears and a Ziggy Stardust vibe; the effeminate Noel Gruber (Kholby Wardell), who gets to overdo a drag number as a French whore in a black, silk slip; and the anonymous, unidentified (she was decapitated) Jane Doe (Emily Rohm), carrying a headless doll and played like an automaton with blinking eyes but showing off a mean soprano for “The Ballad of Jane Doe.”
Kholby Wardell. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Toying with the dead teens’ hopes and desires, the mischievously godlike Karnac asks each kid to explain why he or she should be given a second chance to live, although only one will be granted this boon. Each in turn then pulls a lever at Karnak’s side, causing photos from their life to roll before us along the upstage proscenium borders like figures on a slot machine, before they sing and dance their story, the eclectic score varying according to the tastes and personality of the character. Each gets a chance to shine and to provide a deeper backstory than we might otherwise imagine. Much of it is banal but now and then something touching hits a nerve.
Emily Rohm. Photo: Joan Marcus.
When the show is singing and dancing, and being creatively theatrical (including a revolving stage), it sparkles. (Michael Curry Design & Hat Rabbit Studio are credited with “Special Effects and Illusions.”) It’s the book passages, though, especially those that go on too long, that hold the show down. The music, while always enjoyable, is generic but several numbers are nonetheless showstoppers, particularly the surrealistic one performed by Jane, when she flies out over the audience and even does a pinwheel in midair. 
Gus Halper, Lllian Castillo, Emily Rohm, Kholby Wardell, Alex Wyse, Tiffany Tatreau. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Ride the Cyclone didn’t exactly spin my wheels but it did for many in the audience, including my companion. It's not as thrilling as New York’s own Cyclone, a Coney Island landmark, but you may still find it worth the ride.


Lucille Lortel Theatre
121 Christopher Street, NYC
Through December 29