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The Amazing Karnak, a mechanical fortune teller, faces little competition as the main draw of “Ride the Cyclone,” the ingeniously dark and funny musical now at Arena Stage. But if you were to ignore the sinister and sarcastic Karnak – the show’s presiding genius – the most arresting character would be the creepy Jane Doe.

“Ride the Cyclone” imagines the supernatural yet warmly human aftermath of a bizarre roller coaster crash that kills six teenage chamber choir singers. Or is it five singers? One of the victims, beheaded in the tragedy and known only as Jane Doe, arrives in the afterlife not knowing who she is.

In director Sarah Rasmussen’s vibrant production of the musical by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell, staged in association with the McCarter Theater Center, young girl Jane Doe has a creepy china doll face. The quirky chatter of this unsettling character (Ashlyn Maddox through Jan. 29; Katie Mariko Murray, Feb. 1-19) adds tension and mystery to the series. So does her macabre-yet-booming cabaret-meets-art-song number, “The Ballad of Jane Doe” (“My soul, is it here? / Or is it rotting somewhere with my head?”).

Jane Doe and the other victims find themselves, in the afterlife, competing in a contest organized by the Amazing Karnak (Marc Geller, of “Severance” of Apple TV+, playing the jerky movements of an automaton). The winner of the contest – whose Karnak rules change with ease as they go – will return to earthly life and leave Karnak’s limbo, which set designer Scott Davis renders as an atmospheric warehouse stacked with carnival pieces.

In the running for the prize, the teenage singers reveal some goofy eccentricities. Noel Gruber (Nick Martinez), a gay cinephile who quotes Genet, fantasizes about being a femme fatale vampirizing through decadent Europe. Ukrainian Mischa Bachinski (Eli Mayer, beaming with swagger) yearns for alcoholic machismo but is actually a softy, noticeable in his hilariously foggy auto-tune hip-hop number “This Song Is Awesome.”

Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (Shinah Hey, golden-voiced and very funny) is a gifted who bullies her friend Constance Blackwood (Gabrielle Dominique) and even dares to scold Karnak. “I don’t know how it is in your culture, but in ours, playing games where people’s lives are on the table? Super illegal,” says Ocean tsk-tsks.

Although they are ostensibly in competition, young people often sympathize with each other. This togetherness echoes in the staging, the whole thing helping to evoke each teen’s life, like when they sneak into pink alien cat ears, helping the taciturn Ricky Potts (Matthew Boyd Snyder) as he recounts his bizarre sci-fi imaginings. (Trevor Bowen is costume designer; Katherine Freer designed the supernatural sight projections and more.)

The varied score has a pastiche sound, but it’s catchy. This trait surely helped ‘Ride the Cyclone’ go from its Canadian premiere in 2008 to what has been described as ‘cult music’ status today.

Also a factor, the poignant and witty mirror of the human situation: the roller coaster that is life.

Ride the Cyclone Book, music and lyrics by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell. Directed by Sarah Rasmussen; original choreography, Jim Lichtscheidl; additional choreography, Tiger Brown (also associate director); music supervisor, Mark Christine; musical director, Nick Wilders; lighting, Jiyoun Chang; sound, André Pluess. About 90 minutes. $66 to $105. Through February 19 at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-488-3300. arenastage.org.

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