Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Cry-Baby: The Musical

This latest John Waters-inspired Broadway musical is like candy, it’s enjoyable while you’re experiencing it and it leaves you with the equivalent of a sugar high for a couple of hours, but its pleasure doesn’t really stay with you. It is, though, a really good time while you’re there.

Of course, being the fact that this is a John Waters work, the humor is on a high school level, but a lot more fun high school than the girls’ prep school I went to in Baltimore County. Rob Ashford’s choreography also reminded me of high school; many of the moves are right out of gym class. That was OK because the dancers are good -- and so high energy.

This musical is based upon the Universal Pictures film by the same name written and directed by John Waters, which I had never heard of. This version has songs by David Javerbaum, the Emmy-winning executive producer and former head writer of “The Daily Show,” and Adam Schlesinger, Oscar-nominated for the song “That Thing You Do” from the film of the same name.  Cry-Baby’s book is by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, who received the Tony Award for best book for their work on that other Waters-inspired musical, HairsprayCry-Baby is directed by Mark Brokaw. John Waters serves as creative consultant.
Cry-Baby is set in 1954 in a lively and fun Baltimore that bears no resemblance to the one I grew up in,  other than it features the opposing worlds of blue bloods and “trash.” Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker belongs to the latter. (He got his name because he cried when his parents were executed for supposedly being communist spies, but let’s not get into that part of the “plot.”) Cry-Baby falls for Allison, a good girl from the Maidenhead Country Club who is instantly drawn to this bad boy who is so different from the boys in her circle. She wants to escape her world of bobby soxers and a barbershop quartet that sings songs like “Thanks for the Nifty Country” on the Fourth of July and “Squeaky Clean,” which they are proud to be.

There’s absolutely no suspense, of course, in wondering if she will end up with him. You saw Grease! right? (How many times have we all seen Grease!?)

James Snyder, making his Broadway debut, is winning as Cry-Baby; Elizabeth Stanley as Allison is fine in her acting, but she’s got one of those annoying Broadway shouting voices that is becomes tiresome. Harriet Harris, who was so fabulous in her Tony-winning role in Thoroughly Modern Millie, is a hoot as Allison’s grandmother, Mrs. Vernon-Williams.  All of the members of the ensemble are solid.

I think it’s funny that Baltimore is using this latest Waters musical as promotion for the city. An ad will run in Playbill that says: “You’ve seen the musical, now visit the set.” A Baltimore.org site will direct tourists to John Waters hangouts; I used to see him from time to time in bars, restaurants and a movie theatre downtown when I lived there. My old hometown gets a lot of bad publicity for its high crime rate. I guess connecting to John Waters seems like a step up.

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