The song “96,000” from the musical In The Heights blasts over a loud speaker. Twenty or so eager performers face the instructor, Graham LaBass, who encourages us from his head mic, “It's musical theater guys: just because the tempo slows down, doesn't mean we do!”
We pick up the pace, all gazing intently at our reflections in the mirror, trying our best to keep up with the chorus line. This might be a scene from Fame until LaBass exclaims, “Alright guys, back in the saddle!” Suddenly my lofty Broadway fantasy is brought back to the warmly lit cycling room at Up Dog Yoga and Cycling in West Hollywood.
Show Tune Cycle is the unique collaboration between Up Dog cycling teacher Graham LaBass and his fiancée, entertainer and host Ryan O'Connor. O'Connor, who expertly crafts a distinct playlist for every class in addition to hosting “Musical Mondays,” a weekly musical nightclub act, assures me that Show Tune Cycle is just the tip of the iceberg, “We are kind of building a little musical theater army here in Los Angeles.”
So I look around the class at my fellow soldiers. To my surprise, there is no specific demographic: there are all shapes and sizes, genders and sexual orientations in attendance. (Yes, O'Connor assures me, even a couple of straight guys: “It's a great way to meet the ladies…”) What unites the cyclists is the shared goal to get up that “hill” (simulated by turning a small dial on your bike making it harder to pedal) or to “sprint” through “Mamma Mia!” until you are breathless from the effort.
The class also gives you the opportunity to be both performer and audience member. LaBass patiently guides you through energetic choreography to classics like, “You Can't Stop the Beat” from Hairspray or “One Night in Bangkok” from Chess. I know what you're thinking: choreography and bicycles seem like a treacherous combination. That's certainly what I thought until I was pedaling my ass off doing synchronized arm movements to “Greased Lightening” with my fellow cyclists and suddenly the combination was like chocolate and peanut butter: it just worked.
Simultaneously, you are an audience member, constantly entertained and inspired by your classmates singing along passionately to hits like “I Believe” from The Book of Mormon (and yes, some people do know all the words). While singing is not a requirement of the class, an up-for-anything-attitude and a willingness to embrace your inner theater dork is a necessity.
What makes “Show Tune Cycle” so special is that you don't have to be a musical theater buff, or really buff in any way, to enjoy the class. “It's a great class because the environment isn't so aggressive…it's a lighter mood, everyone's singing and happy and having a great time,” LaBass explains. O'Connor adds, “Ninety-five percent of musicals are about 'hope against all odds'…for me to actually get on a machine for 45 minutes and sweat and work really hard, it is 'hope against all odds.'” And as Kerry Ellis belts out a rock version of the Wicked hit “Defying Gravity” over the loud speaker, somehow I too feel like I can defy gravity, from my stationary bike, nailed firmly to the ground.
Show Tune Cycle takes place every Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at Up Dog Yoga and Cycling, 8599 Santa Monica Blvd, West Hollywood. Call (310) 360-7200 for more info.
Follow @LAWeeklyArts on Twitter.