Students and staff prepare for ‘Ride the Cyclone’ to take the stage

Musical productions come about once every few years at Ramapo, so when they do, the theater department goes all in. That’s certainly the case for their upcoming musical, “Ride the Cyclone,” with nearly all of the department’s faculty, students and staff involved and a slew of guest artists joining to bring the production to life.

“Ride the Cyclone” is a musical written by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell that follows high school choir members who die while riding a faulty roller coaster and vie for another chance at life. The cast consists of only eight actors, but there are many more technical crew members, designers and musicians working tirelessly behind the scenes.

Stage manager and junior theater major Sam Dibari emphasized how much of a learning process “Ride the Cyclone” has been, especially as this is the first musical she has ever stage-managed. “There have been a lot of highs and lows with this production that have taught me a lot about the position and going into the professional world,” she stated over email.

The student costume shop assistants custom made these costumes by hand for the leads. Photo by Rebecca Gathercole

Luckily, Dibari and her peers have the guidance of the many theater professionals who have been brought in to work on the show. This includes Dennis Whitehead Darling as director, David Gordon as music director, Laura Ward as choreographer, Jack Golden as set designer, Cameron Filepas as lighting designer and German Martinez as sound designer.

Many of these guest artists were recommended by Professors Austin Blake Conlee and Peter Campbell — some of whom they’ve known since the ‘90s through graduate school and professional experiences.

Conlee stated over email that bringing in guest artists is a positive, if not vital, opportunity for students to experience “what it’s like working with a team of professional theatre artists.”

As is typical for the theater department, this team is taking plenty of risks in their design choices. Golden has designed a massive and elaborate set that mirrors a carousel, complete with a glowing “cyclone” sign that will fly up in the opening sequence.

Live music will back the actors’ singing from up in the balcony, providing the whole theater with surround sound. Gordon has brought together a five-piece band of drums, guitar, bass and two keyboards, and a four-person chorus. While the band mainly includes local professionals, the guitar player is notably a student, freshman Owen Usinowicz.

Conlee, the only designer on the team affiliated with the school, is handling the equally intricate costume design. He shared that the student costume shop assistants had the opportunity to create the Jane Doe dresses from scratch. They also put together the Jane Doe wigs and altered Noel’s costume with snaps for a big reveal during his musical number.

In addition to imparting choreographic techniques on the students, Ward shared that she also wants them to understand how they are potentially building lifelong creative relationships while in college. “The relationships you have are where your life is gonna come from… When you like working with people, you keep finding ways to work together,” she said in an interview.

For sophomore theater major Desiree S. Bounds, working as the assistant director in her first directorial role has come with imposter syndrome, but the support of the guest artists, especially Whitehead Darling, has helped her trust her instincts.

“Working with the guest artists is what helped me break out of my imposter syndrome,” she stated over email. “The biggest thing I’ve learned is that Theater is a collaboration, so it’s expected to lean upon the people around you.”

As the production moved into tech week, the entire team worked fluidly. It’s a testament not only to the time they’ve spent learning lines, songs and choreography, and discussing technical decisions, but also the connections they’ve forged. Jokes were common during the long hours of tech rehearsals, keeping spirits high even as everyone collaborated to iron out the show’s kinks scene by scene.

“Ride the Cyclone” will premiere tomorrow night in the Berrie Center’s Sharp Theater with following performances on Nov 4, 5, 9, 10 and 11 at 8 p.m.

Conlee wants audience members when viewing the show to truly remember how much goes into putting on a musical.  “There are so many more moving parts and elements that we as the audience don’t realize,” Conlee stated. “Putting on a play is like reeling in a catfish, putting on a musical is like reeling in a Dolphin. Just be careful not to tip the boat over.”


Featured photo by Rebecca Gathercole