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Theatre / Ride the Cyclone

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Six teens die.
One comes back.
Who will it be?

"Tonight I shall speak of these teenagers whose tales ended abruptly on a roller coaster in a small Canadian town in the middle of nowhere. The former St. Cassian Chamber Choir. And my part in the story? I read all of the children's fortunes. I felt their hopes, thoughts, and dreams, knowing they would board the doomed roller coaster and could tell them nothing. I even suggested they ride the Cyclone.
On Monday, September 14th, they would board the Cyclone roller coaster at 6:17 pm. At 6:19 pm, this same roller coaster's front axle would break, causing it to derail at the apex of the loop-de-loop, hurtling the children to their deaths!"
The Amazing Karnak

On Monday, September 14th, the five members of the St. Cassian High School chamber choir of Uranium City, Saskatchewan took a trip to the Wonderville Traveling Fairground, where they rode the faulty "Cyclone" rollercoaster and were propelled to their untimely deaths when their cart derailed. Unsurprisingly, “The Cyclone Accident” made national headlines, and the resulting bankruptcy forced Wonderville to shut down and hastily pack everything up into storage.

Twenty years later, the quintet’s souls (along with a mysterious girl whose headless body was found in the wreckage of the crash and—since she was wearing the same school uniform—assumed to be a member of the choir) appear in the now dilapidated warehouse, only to be greeted by its own mechanical Fortune Teller, "The Amazing Karnak." Karnak himself is not long for the world (what with his wiring being gnawed on by a rat that's made its nest inside his case), but he does have legit mystical abilities—like the power to bring one of the kids back to life. They just have to make the case as to why they deserve life over death... over the other five teens that arrived with them.

So begins Ride the Cyclone, an uproarious, tragi-comic musical about living, dying and loving told from the point of view of half a dozen dead teens vying for a second chance at life. Those teenagers are:

  • Ocean O'Connell Rosenberg, an ambitious girl who believes she deserves a chance to make the world a better place (because according to Ocean, her classmates certainly won't);
  • Noel Gruber, the only gay guy in a dying mining town (who dreams of living beautifully and dying tragically as a prostitute in post-war France);
  • Mischa Bachinski, a refugee adopted from Ukraine and an aspiring rapper (with a hidden romantic side);
  • Ricky Potts, a disabled teen whose degenerative disease left him mute in life (and who developed a fantastic, out-of-this-world persona to cope);
  • Constance Blackwood, the "nicest girl in town" (who might be harboring some resentment under all her kindness);
  • ...and "Jane Doe", a mysterious girl whose headless body was found in the wreckage of the crash and assumed to be a member of the choir as she was in the same school uniform.

With book, music, and lyrics by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, Ride the Cyclone premiered as a cabaret at Atomic Vaudeville in 2008, later being adapted into a full-length show and playing across the U.S. and Canada.

A short trailer for the 2019 Alliance Theatre production is available on YouTube. The long-awaited world premiere cast recording was released to digital and streaming on May 7, 2021, featuring most of the cast from the Alliance Theatre run.

Tropes appearing in Ride the Cyclone:

  • Academic Alpha Bitch: Ocean O'Connell Rosenberg has been choir president for nearly four years, student council president for two, and gotten straight "A"'s since she was in kindergarten. She measures her self-worth in her achievements and holds all her "friends" in the choir to her impossibly high standards.
  • Adoption Angst: Mischa's adoptive Canadian parents thought they were getting a two-year-old Ukrainian toddler—instead they got Mischa, with a "five o'clock shadow and a hint of alcohol on his breath." Since they can't send him back they do the next best thing and ignore him, leaving meals outside his basement room and shooing him away whenever he tries to speak to them. This turned Mischa into "the angriest boy in town."
  • An Aesop: The show basically spells out by the end that viewing life as a competition is wrong and that life is valuable simply for having lived, no matter how short or unfulfilled it was.
  • Ambiguous Ending: While Jane/Penny gets to live out the rest of her life, the remaining kids move on. To where or what? No one knows.
  • Amusement Park: Wonderville Traveling Fairground, overlapping with Crappy Carnival and Amusement Park of Doom.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: Wonderville Traveling Fairground, unintentionally. The rides are in such a state of disrepair that a roller coaster car derails, propelling the teenagers to their deaths and kickstarting the plot.
  • Arc Words: "Round and round" and similar phrases referring to circular motion pop up everywhere. From Jane Doe's belief that the dream of life "goes round and round again", to the kids singing about how they go "round and round and round" as they plummet into death, to Ocean's assertion that people like her "keep the world spinning around", you're constantly reminded that these children died on The Cyclone rollercoaster at the top of the loop-the-loop...
  • Auto-Tune: Mischa is an aspiring rapper (he goes by the name "Bad Egg" on his YouTube page), and his first song makes gratuitous use of autotune, parodying the "the last bastion of pure strength and masculinity in society: self-aggrandizing commercialized hip-hop" of the 2000s.
    Mischa: I feel the rage. And when I rage, I rap about money and autotune. Autotune will never die!
  • Back from the Dead: The Amazing Karnak can bring one of the six teenagers back to life, allowing them to survive the accident. He makes this the "grand prize" of the evening, forcing the kids to vote on who amongst themselves deserves another shot at life.
  • Backhanded Compliment: Ocean is an expert at these. Special mention goes to one leveled at Noel after "What The World Needs".
    Ocean: Noel! I love you! You challenged my preconceived notion that all gay dudes are fun to be around!
  • Bad Girl Song: Parodied in Noel's song, "Noel's Lament," a cabaret-inspired number where he fantasizes about being a "hooker with a heart of black charcoal" in post-war France. He describes his ideal life as a troubled but beautiful lady of the night—murdering Johns who mess with her, burning herself with cigarettes "just to prove that she's alive," getting addicted to opium, catching typhoid, and dying in an alley.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Of the six dead teenagers, five stay dead, with no way to realize the hopes and dreams they had while they were alive. But they've made their peace with it, and Jane, the only one there with no memories to comfort her, gets another chance at life.
  • Boastful Rap: A Justified example—Mischa aspires to become a famous, wealthy rapper. His first song, "This Song is Awesome," parodies the style of 2000's Hip-Hop.
    Mischa: Lounging with my homies, Friday night scene
    PlayStation's up on my 60-inch screen.
    McNuggets in the bag, Cristal's on tap,
    new toothbrush from Tiffany's still in the bubble wrap.
    Track lights glowing like nuclear sciences
    sparkling all over my stainless steel appliances.
    I'm shinning like Midas, I'm the king of ka-ching,
    everything I touch goes bling-bling-bling!
  • Breast Attack: Constance punches Ocean in the breast when she can no longer put up with Ocean's self-centered attitude and backhanded compliments.
  • Bullying the Disabled: As part of her "I Am Great!" Song, Ocean belittles all of her classmates for their lack of potential and "personal failings" compared to her—and with Ricky, she pulls no punches when it comes to his disability. She confidently tells her classmates Ricky will "never learn to read," and questions how much mileage he'd get out of a second shot at life with his degenerative disease.
    Ocean: Oh no, comic books? note  Spider-Man?
    This kid doesn't have the attention span!
    What's he gonna do, solve a Rubik's cube?
    How long's he got if they feed him through a tube?
  • Catchphrase: Lampshaded and Parodied—when The Amazing Karnak gives the introduction for each kid, he includes their catchphrase alongside information like their star sign and favorite carnival ride. Ricky might be the only one to take it seriously, using his catchphrase unironically in the conversation now that he's able to speak.
    Ocean: Democracy rocks!
    Noel: Being the only gay man in a small rural high school is like having a laptop in the stone age. I mean sure, you can have one, but there's nowhere to plug it in...
    Mischa: My gangsta persona is just armor to conceal that I am a naked child wandering through the wilderness, holding in my hands my wounded, fragile heart.
    Ricky: Level up! note 
    Constance: Sorry!
    Jane Doe: When the lioness has children, she stops making love to the lion. The lion gets jealous, sometimes so jealous he eats the children. You'd think this would upset the lioness; far from it. They make love again like the children never existed. I find that idea terrifying.
  • The Chessmaster: Karnak, by his fortune-telling ability, knows what will happen, and manipulates the characters so they turn out that way. Downplayed, since in life he was set in "Family Fun Mode", unable to do anything.
  • Compliment Backfire: During a tender moment when the choir holds a birthday celebration for Jane Doe, Ocean gives Constance a series of Backhanded Compliments, while sincerely believing she's saying something nice:
    Ocean: You know I envy you?
    Constance: No you don't Ocean.
    Ocean: No, I do. I mean, I got straight "A"s since I was in grade one. I was working towards something. I was building a life. You? You were satisfied doing nothing! Making cupcakes, eating them. You are what the Taoists call an un-carved block.
    Constance: I'm a block?
    Ocean: Just learn to take a compliment!
    Constance: Thanks.
  • Condescending Compassion: The basis of Ocean and Constance's friendship, and the way Ocean views everyone else in the choir:
    • Ocean bullies Constance into participating in the choir (which Ocean runs) and joining an improv theater group (which Ocean founded). She teases Constance about her weight, her lack of confidence, and her down-to-Earth ambitions. Ocean would argue she behaves the way she does because they're "best friends" and she's only looking out for Constance, deliberately pushing Constance out of her comfort zone so that she can develop confidence in herself (or at least a thicker skin). Certainly not because Constance is the only girl in their class who’s too polite to walk away from Ocean's pushy, self-centered personality, and too much of a doormat to call out her cruelty.
    • This is also implied to be the reason Ocean got Ricky, who in life had lost the ability to sing or dance, into the choir.
      Ocean: Ricky, I love you! I got you into the choir, even though you couldn't talk and were, like, super sick and made everyone feel bad for us. Accessibility for all!
  • Crappy Carnival: Wonderville Traveling Fairground—a cheap, poorly maintained traveling carnival and amusement park that unintentionally kills riders on its faulty rollercoaster. Even their best asset, a fortune teller machine that can actually tell the future, is minutes away from being destroyed and is locked in a mode that prevents it from doing its job (because it exclusively predicts when its customers will die).
  • Creepy Doll:
    • The headless antique doll carried by Jane Doe.
    • The Uncanny Valley Makeup on the actress playing Jane Doe is meant to evoke a creepy doll (with the implication that Jane Doe is using the doll's head as a replacement for her own lost skull). Most productions include porcelain-pale skin, blacked-out contact lenses, and a blonde wig with ringlets.
  • Dead to Begin With: The show begins with the teen choir members dying and arriving in the dilapidated warehouse storing the Wonderville’s remains.
  • Decided by One Vote: Near the end of the show, with only a few minutes before his own time is up, Karnak switches the method of choosing who comes back from "unanimous vote" to "Ocean picks", because Ocean has the best GPA. Ocean chooses "Jane Doe" for a second chance at life because the amnesiac Jane is the only one of the teens who doesn't have a lifetime of memories to look back on.
  • Dramatis Personae: The Amazing Karnak gives the audience an "introduction" to each of the six teens before they sing their song. It includes their full name, birthdate, star sign, favorite amusement park ride, Catchphrase, and a quick recap of their life story.
  • Dying Town: Uranium, the children's hometown, is the "mall took over and killed off all the local business" variant, as conveyed in the "Uranium Suite" opening. Apparently "the smart ones all packed up and went," but the kids were stranded there since their parents wanted to stay.
  • Emotionless Girl: Jane Doe lost her head and memories in the accident, and now uses a doll's head as a replacement. As such she doesn't emote well in conversation or seems to understand the nuances of body language and sarcasm. Even the character notes describe her as someone who "reacts in a literal way and largely without emotion, almost robot-like; the other contestants are totally freaked out by her."
  • Extreme Doormat: Constance has won the "Nicest Girl in Town" award in her class three years in a row because she's kind and thoughtful and friendly—but she also lets her best friend walk all over her.
  • Fast-Forward Gag: Played for Laughs with Ocean's speech after "Talia." Karnak, at the beginning of the said speech, remarks that his death continues to approach, before speeding her up from the audience's perspective. the others, namely Noel and Mischa, are seen growing increasingly frustrated at her rambling.
    The Amazing Karnak: And while she talks and talks, Virgil chews and chews. Let's speed her up.
  • Fever Dream Episode: Ricky's song, "Space Aged Bachelor Man," is presented as a reminiscence of the dream he had after attending an all-you-can-eat dinner at Uranium's Red Lobster (where it's implied he got food poisoning), with the Potts family's fourteen pet cats sleeping at the foot of his bed. The dream itself transformed Ricky into a virile, galaxy-hopping hero who is called upon to save the sexy cat-people of the Zolarian Galaxy by repopulating their home planet, eventually putting an end to their war with the "K-9 Count Dog-u-lous" by teaching them the ways of free love.
  • Foreseeing My Death: Along with being able to predict the exact time, place, and cause of death of all his customers, The Amazing Karnak is also able to predict his own demise. At the start of the show he tells the audience he's got a little more than an hour before a rat chews through his power cable.
  • Foreshadowing: Jane Doe's existence is hinted at early in the show: she appears in the opening "Dream of Life" (with the actress's head obscured/lowered to make her look headless) and her distinctive soprano is heard in the Uranium Suite - sometimes with Ricky looking around, puzzled, as if he's the only one to hear her.
  • Fortune Teller: The Amazing Karnak is an amusement park fortune-telling robot who just so happened to be gifted with self-awareness and the legitimate ability to predict the time, place, and cause of anyone's death—including his own.
    The Amazing Karnak: I was designed to predict the exact cause, time, and place of someone's death. A rather morbid function, I grant you. Which is precisely why I was set on 'family fun novelty mode' when sold to the Wonderville Traveling Fairground. Turns out being told the place and time of your death in front of your family, with a mouthful of corn dog at a fairground, is the very opposite of fun.
  • Fourth-Wall Observer:
    • The Amazing Karnak, whose in-universe psychic powers allow him to serve as both a character in and the self-aware narrator of the show:
      • In his opening monologue he addresses the audience directly, making a comment about "who gets which armrest" and silencing cellphones before the show starts. On the cast recording, this becomes a comment about how listeners will likely skip the track with his monologue on all future listens.
      • He reads aloud the Dramatis Personae-Esque character introductions throughout the show to familiarize the audience with the other characters.
      • The Amazing Karnak also forewarns the audience that the show will effectively end when he dies in "little over an hour" (said at the beginning of a show with an approximate ~90-minute runtime), as he won't be around to narrate anymore.
    • This carries over into the musical's official audio recording, in which Karnak directly addresses the fact that he's recording this iteration of the story on a soundtrack, and muses over the different formats with which the audience might listen.
    • To a lesser extent there is also Virgil, the rat chewing through Karnak's power cables. Although his narrative function is limited to inadvertently killing The Amazing Karnak, the character of Virgil is meant to be played by the bassist of the live band that provides music for the show. "Virgil" spends the show outside the context of the narrative while he provides the musical backdrop for the other characters to perform against. When he returns to the narrative (shorting out Karnak and electrocuting himself in the process) Virgil ends the show by killing off the narrator and the frontman of the band.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Jane suddenly bursts into song when Ocean complains about the use of the "f-bomb" in "Noel's Lament", leading to this.
    Jane: Fornication under consent of the king!
  • Genre Roulette: The musical ricochets between different musical stylings to reflect the wildly different tastes and personalities of the six main characters. Numbers vary from a cabaret-inspired Bad Girl Song to a horned-up rock opera power ballad, and from a bubblegum pop "I Am Great!" Song to an autotune-heavy Boastful Rap that abruptly morphs into a heartfelt lament for a far-off lover.
  • Ghost Amnesia: Exaggerated in the case of Jane Doe, who arrives at the afterlife without a head because was decapitated in the accident. She's missing all the memories of who she was in life, even her name and what she looked like. The actress who plays Jane Doe carries a headless doll and is made up with porcelain-pale skin, a pale blonde wig, and blacked-out contact lenses as if Jane Doe has taken the doll's head for her own as a replacement. Averted with the other dead kids.
  • Ghost Song: Nearly every song in the musical, by being sung by ghosts. The only ones that don't count are the songs that make up "The Uranium Suite": "Sailing Through Space" (sung seconds before the cast's death) and "Uranium" (which is sung in a flashback).
  • Guy on Guy Is Hot: Constance gets very, very distracted by Mischa kissing Noel during "Noel's Lament."
    Constance: I'm still distracted. I'm still thinking about that time those two boys kissed.
  • Healthy in Heaven: Considering the kids fell to their deaths in a roller coaster accident, any injuries they would have sustained from this are healed in limbo. Ricky Potts in particular no longer has a degenerative disease or mutism in the afterlife, allowing him to express himself for the first time in years. Subverted with Jane Doe, who is still headless in limbo (albeit using a doll's head in its place).
  • Hippie Parents: The O'Connell-Rosenberg household is helmed by two extreme hippies who gave their daughter the name "Ocean." Despite her upbringing, she turned out nothing like the rest of her family. note 
    The Amazing Karnak: Ocean was born into a family of far-left-of-center Humanists, who moved to northern Saskatchewan to live a carbon-free lifestyle. The hemp needlepoint sign above the household's toilet read "If it's yellow let it mellow, if it's brown scoop it out with your hand and put it in the compost." Yet in between all the drum circles, Marxist parables, and cheese sandwiches made of human breast milk, Ocean could never shake the feeling she was the White Sheep of her family.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Ruthlessly Parodied with "Noel's Lament", where Noel fantasizes about being a prostitute in post-war France... with the most over-the-top tragic life he can possibly imagine. He even calls his fantasy self "a hooker with a heart of black charcoal".
  • Hormone-Addled Teenager: Most of the teenage characters express a certain interest in relationships and sex, especially now that they've died (presumably) without the chance of getting any.
    • Noel complains that being the only gay man in town left him with no romantic prospects, and his song—while a parody of the typical Bad Girl Song—imagines a life where he's allowed to lose himself in carnal pleasures and “burn out”, rather than “fade away” in a dead-end job at Taco Bell.
    • Under his tough-guy "gangsta" veneer, Mischa was deeply in love with his internet girlfriend Talia, and dreamed of the day they would get married.
    • Ricky's unfulfilled make-a-wish request was to "make love in zero gravity," and his song describes a fantasy wherein he plays a galaxy-hopping hero who saves a race of sexy cat-people with his "seed", later teaching them the ways of free love and intergalactic peace.
    • Constance gets turned on by the image of guy-on-guy kissing, and she snuck away from the choir to have sex with a carnival worker in a porta-potty hours before she died. When Karnak forces her to confess this to the rest of the choir, she says that she wanted to "get it over with," and ended up doing "it" in the most embarrassing way possible out of a sense of self-loathing and self-sabotage.
    • Averted by Ocean and Jane Doe, the only teens who don't seem to care about sex or romantic relationships at all. Justified since Ocean is so wrapped up in her own academic success and the promising future she had before she died that she doesn't bring up anything else, while Jane Doe lost all her memories of life on Earth when she was decapitated in the accident and barely seems to understand human emotions anymore.
  • Hypocrite: Ocean claims to believe in meritocracy and democracy, but only so long as she's coming out on top:
    • In the beginning, she gives a speech about how she wants no part in Karnak's game... and immediately backpedals once Karnak states this is tantamount to conceding. Apparently, her Rousing Speech was only to prove to Karnak that she was a good person, though given her next attempt at winning over the judges is "What the World Needs"... For someone whose catchphrase is "Democracy Rocks!", she seems perfectly happy to act undemocratically when it helps her case.
      Ocean: And this is why you both note  sucked at math! What part of "unanimous vote" is eluding you two geniuses? If you vote for each other- if you vote for each other...! Okay! No one else is going until I find out how everyone is voting!
    • Subverted at the end when Ocean (despite being given complete control over who gets brought back) maintains the unanimous vote structure to give Jane a second chance at life.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: Subverted in Ocean's number, "What the World Needs," where she boasts of how driven, passionate, and successful she is while spending most of the song gleefully putting down her fellow choir members instead of building herself up. Ocean "lovingly" describes them as future drug addicts, criminals, and losers. She divines her best friend Constance's future as a "soccer mom, minivan, four little brats, no steady man!" whose greatest achievement will be as an eventual "organ donor," and calls Jane Doe "a freaky monster!" Karnak even notes that it's amazing how something as disgusting as social Darwinism can be made palatable with a peppy-enough beat.
    Chorus: Yes there's a problem-
    Ocean: I'm the solution!
    Darwin had a theory called-
    Chorus: Evolution!
    Ocean: Put it into words, but it's plain to see,
    We need a little less of them, a little more of me!
  • In-Universe Catharsis: The kids each getting to experience their inner fantasy through song is meant to be this.
  • Interactive Narrator: Karnak, whose precognition and apparent fourth wall awareness enables him to put on the show (which he refers to as "tonight's entertainment"), directly address the audience, narrate the children's lives and the events of their deaths, and script the events of the story, all while interacting with the cast as a character in his own right trying to help the children in death in a way he couldn't when they lived.
  • Jacob Marley Apparel: Zig-Zagged:
    • Averted with most of the cast—the teens died in a horrific roller coaster crash, but as ghosts, their bodies are largely whole and uninjured. They show up to the afterlife in the school uniforms they were wearing during the crash, which are free of bloodstains, rips, tears, or other unsightly features.
    • Subverted with Ricky Potts, who finds that as a ghost his disability no longer keeps him from walking, dancing, singing, or playing the accordion.
    • Later Played Straight with Jane Doe, who was decapitated in the crash, and her head was never located. As a ghost, her skull has been replaced with a creepy doll's head.
  • Jerkass Has a Point:
    • Ocean points out that putting people in competitions where their lives are on the line is "super illegal", and points out a lot of the unfairness in the way Karnak has set up the "competition".
    • Karnak comes across as cynical and manipulative, especially towards Ocean, but he also points out a lot of Ocean's hypocrisy and helps her to see how her attitude hurts and demeans others.
  • Jerkass with a Heart of Gold:
    • Ocean may be a judgmental Academic Alpha Bitch, but in the end, she gives up her chance at life for Jane after realizing she doesn’t deserve it.
    • Invoked with Mischa, whose catchphrase literally spells out that his rough demeanor hides a fragile, loving heart.
    • Karnak, a Deadpan Snarker who nonetheless uses every last bit of his power to make up for his inability to stop the kids from dying, by giving each of them a last chance for catharsis and bringing Jane back to life.
  • The Journey Through Death: The dead teens are stuck in a sort of limbo with The Amazing Karnak before five of them go on being dead and one gets to return to life. The final number of the show, "It's Just A Ride", is sung after Jane Doe is sent back to the land of the living and the remaining five journey onwards to "whatever comes next."
  • Lead Bassist: The rat that's chewing through The Amazing Karnak's power cables is named Virgil, and he takes the role of frontman for the four-piece band that provides musical backing for the show... as a bassist.
    The Amazing Karnak: Meet my executioner - a rat I've named Virgil. For the last two years, Virgil has been steadily chewing on my power cable. In little over an hour, Virgil shall chew his way through the rubber, biting down on 200 volts of electricity; instantly killing us both. As there is nothing more base than death, I've decided that for tonight's concert Virgil will play the bass.
  • Magic Skirt: The choreography for Jane's song has her be lifted into the air and rotated upside down several times. To accommodate this sequence, her costume has features that hold the skirt in place around her legs, preventing it from flipping over her head or hanging awkwardly.
  • Melancholy Musical Number: Jane Doe's song, "The Ballad of Jane Doe." She laments not knowing who she was in life, having no memories of her time on Earth, and not knowing what will happen to her spirit if she passes on—the only thing she knows for certain is that no one claimed her body or mourned her passing.
    Jane Doe: Oh no soul, and no name
    And no story, what a shame
    Cruel existence was only a sham?
    Oh St. Peter, let me in!
    You must know where I've been
    Won't you tell me at least who I am?
  • Mood Whiplash:
    • "The Uranium Suite" starts with the still-living kids performing a cheesy, cheery ode to their titular hometown, singing about how great it is (and that they'll "never leave this town at all"), before immediately flashing forward to their fatal ride on the Cyclone and the moment the cart derails, where they freely admit the true state of Uranium and that they'll "never leave this town alive" as they're hurtled to their violent, untimely deaths.
    • Ocean, after her triumphant "I Am Great!" Song ends with her on top of a pyramid formed by the other kids, quickly gets taken down a peg when Karnak reveals the vote on who gets to come back must be decided unanimously by those same kids, who refuse to vote for her as a result of her putting them down in her song.
    • Jane Doe's haunting, melancholic ballad about her loss of memory and identity comes immediately after Ricky's fantastical, glam-rock-opera inspired number about traversing the galaxy and saving a race of horny cat-people aliens with lots of sex:
      Constance: I am so happy right now, I can never come down!
      Jane Doe: My turn.
      Constance: (muttered) Aw, man...
  • Meaningful Echo: An interesting example where the echo retroactively gives meaning to the original iteration. At the beginning of the show, Karnak introduces Ocean and her pre-programmed catchphrase: "Democracy rocks!" This turns out to be foreshadowing for her character arc. At the end of the show, Karnak gives Ocean the ability to be the sole arbiter of who gets to live, but she maintains the unanimous vote structure and the group chooses Jane Doe to return to life. Ocean passes the motion with a bittersweet "Democracy rocks!"
  • The Music Meister: Karnak sets the rules of the game as a singing competition and says he has "taken the liberty of choreographing a few of [their] moves in advance," such as catchphrases and backup dancer blocking for the soloists. The kids essentially have to act out the soloist's fantasy (even if the said soloist is insulting them).
  • Mysterious Stranger: Exaggerated with the Mystery Contestant, "Jane Doe", who is unknown to all the students (none of them can remember her), and The Amazing Karnak (he didn't read her fortune, so he doesn't know who she is), and to herself (she lost her head in the accident, and arrived in limbo without any memories of her life on Earth).
    Jane Doe: "Jane Doe" is what the coroner said.
    They found my body, not my head.
    No parents came, and so they never learned my name,
    or who I used to be. My life, an unsolved mystery.
    From ashes, I was made, and ashes I return...
    and so I walk alone and wonder "Why?"
    Why? Why? Why?
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Downplayed as Ocean only thinks she's the hero in this situation, but while trying to save face after The Amazing Karnak reveals the consequences of Ocean's condescending "I Am Great!" Song, she approaches Ricky, claiming she loves him (platonically) and using the fact that she got him into the choir despite the latter's inability to speak as evidence of this. Ricky summarily responds that had Ocean not brought him into the choir, he would still be alive.
    Ricky: Yeah, and then I rode that rollercoaster. Thanks.
  • "No Talking or Phones" Warning: As part of his opening monologue, The Amazing Karnak tells audience members to turn off their cell phones, telling the audience that none of the calls they'll receive in the next hour and a half will be important—except for one.
    The Amazing Karnak: My sincerest condolences. Accidents happen.
  • One-Liner, Name... One-Liner: Done (though featuring an insult rather than the subject's name) by Noel after Ocean supposedly uses up the group's three questions for the entire event.
    Noel: Ugh- even in death I can't escape her! She's followed me into the afterlife! Well played, Satan, well played.
  • One-Woman Song: Mischa's second song is "Talia," which takes its name from his internet girlfriend. Most of the lyrics are her name, repeated over and over again.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: Played totally straight in "Space Age Bachelor Man." Ricky's song recounts the fever dream of a hormone-addled nerd, wherein he is approached by the sexy cat-people of the Zolarian Galaxy, who need his "seed" to save their race. During the course of the song, the female Zolarians beg him to save their galaxy by making love to them, while the male Zolarians thank him for "laying with their daughters."
  • Opium Den: Mentioned in Noel's Bad Girl Song, "Noel's Lament," as part of the downward spiral of the prostitute in post-war France Noel wished he could be.
    Noel: So now I sell my love for opium,
    In some rat-infested Chinese dive.
  • Prophecy Twist: Lampshaded when Karnak introduces himself to the teens and spells out how they'll select who gets to return to life.
    Ocean: What do we have to do to be brought back to life?
    The Amazing Karnak: The one who wants to win it the most shall redeem the loser in order to complete the whole.note 
    Ocean: That doesn't make any sense.
    The Amazing Karnak: I trade mostly in prophecies that don't make any sense until they actually do.
  • Psychopomp:
    • Karnak serves as one for the teenagers, introducing them to the limbo-like space they find themselves in and setting out the conditions of their afterlife—being that one of them can go back to living, while the remainder must continue on to "whatever comes next."
    • Vergil the rat—who chews through Karnak's wires, causing Karnak to short-circuit and electrocute himself in the process—is named after the poet Virgil. Virgil famously appears as a guide through the afterlife in Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy. Similarly, Virgil the rat "guides" Karnak to the afterlife (by killing him).
  • Selfless Wish: As Karnak finds himself running out of time and the teens unable to reach a consensus as to who should be revived, he changes the rules of the game and gives Ocean the deciding vote, "based on grade point average." Ocean refuses to vote for herself, realizing that if she does, the moral of the story is that "humans suck", and that Karnak knew all along that she'd never actually do it, despite seemingly affirming Ocean's initial belief that she was the most deserving of a second chance due to her lost “potential” and ambitions. She admits it shouldn't be her due to her selfishness in life (she'd never bothered to get to know more about her so-called “friends” despite being in the same club, bullied Constance, treated others like Ricky with Condesending Compassion, and made everything about her and her wants), and adds that while they did die young in a random accident, saying they died needlessly just because they were teens discounts the time, experiences, hopes, and dreams they had, and she would gladly take the seventeen years she got over nothing. She then votes that Jane Doe be the one returned to life, as she has no memory of her life at all and the other choir members at least have theirs to comfort them. Of course, Karnak had predicted earlier that "the one who wants to win the most the most shall redeem the loser in order to complete the whole," so he already knew how that would play out.
  • Sex Is Cool: Played with. On the one hand, considering the cast is mostly made up of hormone-addled teenagers, most of their fantasies and musical numbers involve sex, with Ricky Potts defending that sex is the way human life began and it should be seen as beautiful. Noel, as the only gay man in Uranium, is especially frustrated that he never found anyone compatible, and even Ocean laments that they all died virgins due to their age. On the other hand, Constance revealing she lost her virginity to a 30-year-old in what was clearly an act of self-hatred is a secret shame that is not seen as a good or cool thing.
  • Sexy Cat Person: Ricky's fantasy involves making love to sexy alien cat women. Constance, Ocean, and Jane take on this role during "Space Age Bachelor Man".
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism:
    • The play starts in a very cynical place, as the show's very concept has six teenagers, whose lives and personalities were already not the best, die a meaningless death at a crappy carnival before they had a chance to realize any of their dreams, with an incredibly cynical Fortune Teller serving as their only hope to return. But the promise of one of the kids being able to come back, plus the kids getting to express their dreams and inner worlds, inches the show ever so slightly towards idealism. The play's most selfish character choosing to instead be selfless, and all the kids realizing that their short lives were still valuable, seems to end the play in, if not an idealistic, then at least a hopeful place.
    • The songs bounce back and forth on the scale as well, from Noel's nihilistic lament and Jane's haunting ballad to Ricky's feline space fantasy and Constance's aptly-named "Sugar Cloud."
    • On a smaller scale, Constance's Character Focus starts out with Constance revealing how resentful she became of Uranium and her family after the other teens in high school mocked them for being content in their dead-end town, before riding the Cyclone and realizing how much she loved the small moments of joy in her life.
  • Small Town Boredom: Uranium is a shrinking, insignificant little mining town in northern Saskatchewan, home to the six now-dead teenagers. Noel was working in a Taco Bell in the mall because he wanted to save up enough money to move to France, Mischa wanted to become a famous rapper and move back to Ukraine to be with his online girlfriend, and Ocean wanted to leave Uranium so she could make a difference in the world. The only person in the group who ever expressed any fondness for Uranium was Constance, and she was teased mercilessly by her classmates for it, mocked for wanting to stay in a dead-end life instead of getting the hell out like everyone else. Several lines in "The Uranium Suite" reference their fears that they'll never leave the town—a tragic irony because all six of them die (and five stay dead) without having gotten the chance to move away.
  • Teenage Death Songs: Overlaps with Ghost Song, in that the majority of the songs in the show are sung by the dead teenagers. Thematically "The Ballad of Jane Doe" and "Sugar Cloud" are the best-fitting examples:
    • Jane's "Ballad" stands as the haunting lament of a lost soul grappling with a life she can't remember living and the cruel randomness of her sudden, un-mourned death.
      And I'm asking "why, lord?" If this is how I die, lord
      Why be left with no family and no friends?
      I’ve got no celebration, just this consolation
      Time eats all his children in the end
    • Constance's "Sugar Cloud" is the complete opposite, expressing an overwhelming love for not just life, but the life she lived in Uranium that only came into focus with her death.
      Oh my soul it sings a song so sweet and pure
      I've felt it all along but now I'm sure
      Oh, everything's love, looking down from above
      Oh my sugar cloud
  • This Is a Song: Mischa's first song, "This Song is Awesome," which contains lines like "this hook is awesome," "this beat is awesome," and of course "this song is awesome."
  • Throwing Off the Disability: A Justified example—arriving in limbo, Ricky Potts discovers that the degenerative disease that robbed his body of the ability to walk and talk (and that would have eventually killed him) no longer affects his ghostly form. He no longer needs his crutches to move around, and he spends the rest of the musical dancing, singing, and playing the accordion.
  • Title Drop: The Amazing Karnak was set to 'family fun novelty mode' when he was bought by the park, leaving him only able to say, "Your lucky number is 8. Ride the Cyclone." "Ride the Cyclone" is also his last line right before "It's Just a Ride".
  • The Trickster: Karnak acts as this throughout, particularly towards Ocean, as he keeps changing the rules of the game and withholding information to get her to see just how undeserving of another chance she actually is (she'd never bothered to get to know more about her so-called “friends” despite being in the same club, bullied Constance all the time, treated others like Ricky with Condesending Compassion, made everything revolve around her and her wants, and believes that she's the most deserving of a second chance due to her lost potential and ambitions, which, in her mind, make her life matter more than the others). Karnak's actions finally get her to realize her failings, see that a person's achievements aren't what make their life valuable, but simply living at all—no matter how short, dull, or seemingly unfulfilled their life was—and give her vote to the far more deserving Jane.
  • The Social Darwinist: Ocean gives off these vibes, and outright mentions Darwin in "What The World Needs", where she lists off why the other kids aren't as deserving of a second shot at life as she is. Mischa (the immigrant with an interest in rap) is "going to jail guaranteed", Noel (the gay kid) is "never going to breed", and Ricky (the disabled kid) will "never learn to read".
  • T-Word Euphemism: Ocean has some very petty "concerns" about the lyrical content of Noel's song.
    Ocean: I champion Noel's journey of sexual discovery, but he dropped the F-bomb in the actual chorus.
  • Undead Child: All the teenagers are ghosts, but Jane Doe is the only one to play up the creepiness (by not having a head). Even the other dead teens are creeped out by her.
  • Western Zodiac: Karnak introduces each of the kids (except Jane Doe) with their star sign, describing it in a way that aligns with their personality:
    • Ocean: "Capricorn, the ambitious nature," signifying her go-getter attitude.
    • Noel: "Pisces, sign of passion," reflecting his status as "the most romantic boy in town".
    • Mischa: "Leo, sign of aggression," reflecting his status as "the angriest boy in town".
    • Ricky: "Gemini, the dual nature," reflecting both his dull, seemingly "worthless" outer life (as he'd had a neurodegenerative disease that left him in crutches and unable to speak, which kept him from doing much of anything) and the rich inner fantasy life he created to cope with the reality of his condition.
    • Constance: "Scorpio, the secretive nature," reflecting her secret self-loathing and loss of virginity just before the accident, which she hides throughout the play until her monologue.
    • Penny Lamb: "Aries, the lucky nature," signifying her second chance at life.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: More like "What the hell, protagonist?" in this case, but Ocean gets immediately raked over the coals by Karnak and the other kids once her song dissing all of them is finished.
    Noel: (to Ocean) You said your best friend’s greatest achievement will be to become an organ donor!
  • White Sheep: Discussed by Karnak when describing Ocean. The O'Connell-Rosenbergs aren't evil, per-se, they're just aged hippies trying their best to raise a kid in a carbon-neutral lifestyle in a podunk town in Saskatchewan. Ocean, by contrast, is a pushy, relentlessly self-centered overachiever who thrives on structure, order, and "democracy" (read: meritocracy). She excels when given a framework where she can measure her self-worth via her achievements, so she loved going to a rule-filled Catholic school.