Thursday, April 3, 2008


I know it's not fair to criticize a show for not being enough like another show, but I loved Hairspray when I saw it on tour last year and because of that, I had such high hopes for Cry-Baby, another musical based on a John Waters movie.

Unfortunately, not only did Cry-Baby not make me cry, it hardly even made me laugh. The plot, about a "bad" boy from the wrong side of the tracks who falls in love with a "good" girl from the right side of the tracks, has lots of promise, but the book by Thomas Meehan and Mark O'Donnell wasn't as sharp and witty as I would have liked. I can't believe this is the same team that wrote Hairspray. Maybe my short-term memory is going, but I can't even remember any funny lines.

Cry-Baby's songs, with lyrics by Daily Show writer David Javerbaum and music from Adam Schlesinger, of the pop-rock band Fountains of Wayne, were just mildly funny. The opening number, "The Anti-Polio Picnic," was a promising start, but other than a few references to "Commies," the musical didn't seem to capture the 1950s in all of its misplaced complacency, sexual repression and Cold War hysteria. I guess I expected something more over the top hilarious from Javerbaum, given his association with The Daily Show.

There was very little of the incisive social and political satire, catchy tunes, imaginative sets or quirky, engaging characters that I loved in Hairspray. Even Rob Ashford's choreography didn't excite me very much - although in "Jailyard Jubilee" I did learn quite a bit about how license plates are made. I know there's been some comparison to The Wedding Singer, but I thought Chad Beguelin's lyrics and Ashford's choreography were better than anything in Cry-Baby, especially in a song like "All About the Green," which really captured the 1980s on Wall Street.

I wanted James Snyder's Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker to be, well, badder, maybe more misunderstood, more brooding, more smoldering, more dangerous, more of a character. The same for "good girl" Allison, played by Elizabeth Stanley. She was sweet, but she should have been more of the quintessential 1950s "good girl," so that when she fell for the "bad boy," the contrast could be even more stark and funny.

On the other hand, I thought Harriet Harris really played it to the hilt as Mrs. Vernon-Williams, Allison's very proper, somewhat snooty, upper-crust grandmother. Maybe she's played this type of role before, but I thought she was pretty funny. And Alli Mauzey was wonderfully demented as Leonora, a girl with an unrequited crush on Cry-Baby. (Has there ever been a more perfectly titled song for a character than "Screw Loose?") To me, their performances were more memorable than the leads.

The poster for the show kind of hints at what I was expecting, but Cry-Baby itself doesn't really follow through. Snyder's Wade Walker is nowhere near as scary as the drawing on the cover of the Playbill. The whole thing just felt kind of flat and blah - like white bread and mayonnaise when I was really looking forward to some spicy mustard on rye.

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