If Jacob Richmond did not exist, it would be necessary for Canadian theatre to invent him. Anyone fortunate enough to spend any time in his idiosyncratic world will surely agree. This goes especially for those lucky enough to catch a performance of his new musical, Ride the Cyclone.
Toronto audiences know Richmond’s wit from previous productions including Legoland in 2008 and Small Returns in 2004, both of which ran at Theatre Passe Muraille. He is also co-founder of Atomic Vaudeville, a Victoria, BC performance company he founded in 2005 with director Britt Small. The company plays to standing-room crowds as a kind of subversive counter-culture-voice to its oft-stuffy home city. It has developed a loyal stable of performers and an audience of widely ranging ages and socio-economic backgrounds. It’s an arrangement any Toronto artistic director would kill for.
Ride the Cyclone just completed a Canadian tour with stops in Victoria, Vancouver, and Whitehorse. Producers would nocturnally emit for the stellar reviews Ride the Cyclone received when it was a part of the National Series of the most recent SummerWorks Festival.
Ride the Cyclone follows Legoland as the second part of a trilogy set in Uranium, Saskatchewan. The plays explore the mythos of the small Canadian town slowly swallowed by big-box capitalism. In Ride the Cyclone a repentant fortune-telling machine serves as emcee for the final performance of the Choir of St Casian’s Catholic School whose members perished in the wreck of the titular roller coaster.
Perhaps the mass-appeal of Ride the Cyclone comes from the rare intersection of pathos and bathos; truly hilarious satire is presented with a musical-comedy sheen, razor-wire edge, and open heart.
Richmond says the play is so successful because it engages audiences on many levels. His characters, he says, have deep roots. “It’s not just one-liner,one-liner, one-liner.” To illustrate his point, Richmond invokes one of the piece’s most sublime moments. It comes when shy Ricky Potts – played to the adorable hilt by Elliott Loran and garbed in costume designer Ingrid Hansen’s disco-fabulous spandex bodysuit – belts out the Bowie-esque “Space Age Bachelor Man.”
Ricky “fantasizes about making love to giant cat women, but he really means it, he really feels it,” says Richmond. This collision of authentic emotion and broad pastiche “is really the art of camp…when it’s done well.” And in the case of Ride the Cyclone it is done very well indeed.
Somewhere Susan Sontag is wearing a wide smile.