A musical about six high school kids dying on a roller coaster is sweeping the nation. And it’s taken local performance company Atomic Vaudeville on a wild ride.
The company is fresh off the first national tour for its critically-acclaimed musical, Ride the Cyclone, which played to sold out audiences in Victoria, Vancouver, Whitehorse and Toronto.
“It was super exciting because Canada was buzzing with this piece and people were excited,” says AV co-director Britt Small. “It doesn’t happen that often that you get a play out of Canada that gets that much critical admiration and audience response as well.”
It was such a smash hit that it sold out the entire four-week run at Toronto’s Theatre Passe Muraille, where even Adrienne Clarkson couldn’t pass up a seat to the hottest ticket in town.
Small noticed the former Governor General’s name strewn over one of the best seats in the house just before curtain. “I was like Adrienne Clarkson! How did she get here?”
After each performance in Toronto, the cast and crew mingled with producers and artistic directors at the theatre’s balcony bar. “It was exciting but exhausting, too,” says Small. “It’s funny all the art directors that I approached last year about doing this tour, that were all “I’m not sure, not this year,” they were all “Can we do the show now?”
Small says they’re in negotiations now for a possible Canadian tour next summer, or even a move to New York City’s Broadway.
A review by Toronto Star’s chief theatre reviewer, who has been called the city’s most influential critic, ended up in Variety magazine saying, “It doesn’t just have legs, it’s a centipede.”
In Vancouver, Sun reviewer Peter Birnie said, “It’s a work of genius that defies description,” and called it a “masterpiece...worthy of any world stage.”
“You can’t buy a review that good,” says Small, who co-directed the piece with playwright Jacob Richmond. “It was a bit overwhelming when it came out.”
“We were so thankful because we were producing ourselves in Vancouver and if our show didn’t sell well, we could have potentially lost $30,000 which would have bankrupted our company. We had a lot riding on it. We were very grateful.”
But the cast and crew really knew they were on to something great when they saw the reaction from audiences across the country, especially in Whitehorse.
“The other thing that was amazing was seeing it through the Whitehorse audience’s eyes,” says Small. “It’s about Uranium, Sask, which is a small dying mining town in the middle of nowhere, and here we are performing it in a small town in the middle of nowhere with a huge mining past, and present really, and it just resonated completely different with that audience, in a deeper way. I found it really touching and rediscovered the piece a little bit.”
After the first of three nights, the people of Whitehorse were buzzing about the play. By the third night, all 450 seats were filled.
After it’s all said and done, Small says it was really rewarding to have both audiences and critics recognize the four years of hard work that went into creating this truly Canadian musical.
“With a new work it’s nice to see Canadian critics get behind it and say this show could have an international life and we’re proud that it’s a Canadian piece,” says Small. “Audiences dig it and it sells out and people come see it a second time. It’s kind of weird we had to keep saying to ourselves, ’oh yeah that’s right, we did this.’ And people were like ’you’re from Victoria? What?!’”
Luckily for us, we’re also from Victoria and we get the chance to see Atomic Vaudeville’s 55th cabaret, Lawrence Welk Presents: It’s the End of the World Sweeties!( featuring the Mayans), at the Victoria Event Centre Dec. 29-31.
This New Year cabaret features some of AV’s favourite characters who have returned to Victoria for the holidays, including Mike Delamont (God), Victor Dolhai and Katie-Ellen Humphries in the cast of more than 25.
The show begins with a dance piece that recaps the important stories of 2011, from entertainment news to internet memes.
Then the Mayans show up with all their end-of-the-world scenarios, fighting for bragging rights, X Factor style, for who can correctly predict the way the world ends.
Thankfully Lawrence Welk (played by Delamont) is there to provide some wonderful and cheery contrast to all the world-is-going-to end negativity.
While tickets for the New Year’s Eve show are more expensive, they come with bubbly, snacks, a dance party, and New Year’s countdowns every hour on the hour. Tickets are on sale at Rebel Rebel (585 Johnson). M
Atomic Vaudeville Cabaret 55
Victoria Event Centre
Tickets $18 student/senior and $22 regular. NYE tickets are $45 or $35 for AV members