Michael Scholar Jr. (left) and Kevin Corey get crossed in The Black Rider.
THE BLACK RIDER by Tom Waits, Robert Wilson and William S. Burroughs (November Theatre/Tarragon). To November 16. $10-$38. 416-531-1827. See Continuing. Rating: NNNN
You can't win a deal with the devil, but audiences collect the jackpot in the hell-tinged rock opera The Black Rider, created by Tom Waits, Robert Wilson and William S. Burroughs.
A 10-year-old production that doesn't show its age, the show draws on a German folk tale about a clerk who can only win his beloved by exhibiting marksmanship he doesn't possess. He bargains with Satan to get bullets that will hit his targets. And they do... all but the last.
Director Ron Jenkins's finely polished production uses every theatrical device to make this show a must-see, from Marissa Kochansky's black, red and white design to Marie Nychka's athletic choreography, Corinne Kessel's musical direction (the Devil's Rubato Band is first-rate) and Michael Kruse's hi-def lighting. There's even a touch of cartoonland's Elmer Fudd and marionettes to spice up the mix.
Add to that a whiteface-wearing cast that literally throws itself into the sideshow-and-madhouse-framed action, performed in an intentionally exaggerated cabaret style. Kevin Corey's clownishly romantic Wilhelm does amazing acrobatics to win his love, given fragile instability by Rachael Johnston. Ashley Wright and Colleen Winton play her parents and Mackenzie Gray a dumb-ass rival suitor and other figures.
At times the writing sags, and you occasionally want better voices to sing the musically varied score.
But let's give the powers of darkness their proper due. Peg Leg (Michael Scholar Jr.), a seductive, scary, eye-catching demon, strolls with a saucy walk, one hand suggesting horns and the other hoofs as he MCs and guides the action. Theatrically, this devil is sheer heaven.