November 10, 2015

“Ride the Cyclone,” an unceasingly delightful new musical having its premiere at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, does bring a smidgen of sad news. Apparently the rivalries, insecurities and peer-fearing angst of the teenage years survive even beyond the grave. This show, developed from a cabaret originally produced in Canada, takes place in a ghostly carnivalesque netherworld, designed with ghoulish atmosphere by Scott Davis. The remnants of a rickety wooden roller coaster wrap around a small, antique proscenium. While riding that creaky coaster, six teenagers — all members of a school choir — met their gruesome ends when their car leapt the tracks. This may sound like a singularly weird idea for a musical, but “Ride the Cyclone,” with book, music and lyrics by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell (straight A’s across the board), couldn’t be less of a downer. It’s a witty, small-scaled show of immense sweetness and originality, like a macabre fun house variation on “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” or a madcap comic riff on the “Final Destination” movies, played backward.