Ride The Cyclone - Hayes
Photograph: Hayes Theatre Co/Prudence Upton
  • Theatre, Musicals
  • Recommended


Ride The Cyclone

4 out of 5 stars

The Australian premiere of this darkly comedic viral musical sensation is a wild ride


Time Out says

When an entire teen choir is suddenly killed in a tragic roller coaster accident, they awaken to find themselves in a strange carnie limbo. Greeted by an ominous robotic fortune teller, these misfits are invited to compete for the chance to return to the land of the living. This is the premise of Ride The Cyclone – the exciting, modern, TikTok-viral Canadian musical that is now playing its Aussie premiere season at Sydney’s intimate Hayes Theatre. Dark yet camp, nihilistic yet strangely life affirming, this show is full of surprises and just as brilliantly bonkers as it sounds. 

Corralled and narrated by the legendary Pamela Rabe as the (studio-recorded) voice of The Amazing Karnak, a fresh young cast has been assembled to take on some of the most compelling characters in modern musical theatre, and there’s not a weak link among them (if only the same could be said for the fateful carnival ride on which their characters meet their untimely demise). Melding with the production’s other-worldly audio-visual elements, Rabe’s inimitable voice is the perfect pick for the mysterious fortune-telling automaton, lending a certain gravitas with a vaguely threatening, strangely alluring mythical quality – like a Matrix villain procreated with a wise wizard matriarch. 

In Ride The Cyclone, modern, relevant and youthful references fit comfortably and casually within the musical theatre form, and this accomplishment is certainly key to the show’s popularity with Gen Z. The characters dreamt up by creators Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell are another reason, each one gets their moment to shine as The Amazing Karnak challenges them to plead their case – via a musical theatre performance, naturally. 

As each character’s story unfurls, from personal quirks to personal scars, it’s easy to find yourself identifying with each and every one of them. It’s difficult to land on just one highlight performance, but Bailey Dunnage (known to some as Aubrey Haive from RuPaul’s Drag Race Down Under Season 2) definitely deserves flowers for his portrayal of Noel Gruber. The “only gay guy” at their highschool, Noel harbours a penchant for arthouse cinema and indulges an anarchic fantasy about living a fast life as a “French prostitute” with a “heart of black charcoal” who dies a young and glamorously tragic death. (Haven’t we all been there?) Dunnage handles the role masterfully.

It’s easy to draw similarities between Ride The Cyclone and the current golden wave of meaty teen dramas that are reeling in audiences of all ages, like Heartbreak High and Sex EducationThe frenemy dynamic between Constance (Mel O’Brien, stepping in for Natalie Abbott) and Ocean (Karis Oka) is particularly intriguing. But this critic’s main complaint, if you can call it that, is that this show leaves you wanting *more*.

Ride The Cyclone is, essentially, the perfect ensemble musical. However, while we do get the chance to zone in on each of these unique characters, it would be gratifying if more space was allowed for the characters and their interpersonal relationships to develop more richly. That said, the tight 95-minute runtime (with no interval) is also satisfying in its own way.

Out of the theatre’s dynamic 2024 season, this production is clearly the favourite child of the Hayes’ artistic directors Richard Carroll and Victoria Falconer, who serve respectively as Cyclone’s director and musical director, and audiences are all the more blessed for it. It’s a smart decision too, for Sydney’s sole answer to Off-Broadway, with ticket sales indicating that Ride The Cyclone is drawing in more new audience members than any other show. 

Keep your arms and legs (and hopes, dreams and fears) inside the vehicle, and strap in for a wild ride. This production will sell out, and for good reason.

[Time Out's tip: chase up your night at this musically inclined Kings Cross theatre with a suitably theatrical post-show tipple at one of our favourite bars in the neighbourhood, like Piccolo Bar or Vermuteria.]

Ride The Cyclone is playing until June 22, 2024. Tickets are on sale now from $69-$89 (special prices for under 35s). Book in here

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