After Mel Brooks, could John Waters, the self styled auteur of trash be far behind? Encouraged by the mega success of the Broadway production of “Hairspray,” John Waters has consented to this campy multi-million dollar musical adaptation of his 1990 film “Cry Baby” that starred a quirky Johnny Depp.
Clearly intended for teen audiences the results are a bland “squeaky clean” show that’s a cross between “Grease” and “Hairspray” without the edge. Here the star is the ingenious choreography by Rob Ashford, hip swiveling pelvic gyrations performed with gymnastic precision by exuberant chorus boys. And two of the supporting players, Chester Gregory II and Carly Jibson, bring a zestful spark of originality that is sorely missing from most of the evening.
The book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, the Tony Award winning team from “Hairspray,” is a spoof of the original story, which itself was a spoof of B-films about bad boy drifters (think Elvis Presley, James Dean or Marlon Brando), who blow into town and stir up trouble. Set in 1954 Baltimore, an orphaned rebel with a cause – truth, justice and rock ’n roll- Wade “Cry Baby” Walker (James Snyder), the leader of a gang of hoodlums known as the Drapes, ignites the desires of local good girl, Allison (Elizabeth Stanley), a charm school grad who falls fast and hard. The enthusing spirited romp will include turf wars, sexual repression, tongue kissing, false pregnancies and an 11th hour confession to tie up loose ends.
The songs, a pastiche to 1950’s rock by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, have a rockabilly blues inspired sound with witty satirical lyrics. But they drone on sounding very similar to one another without a stand out hit in the bunch. The highlight of the evening is the inspired dancing in “Jailyard Jubilee,” where the sexy chorus boys attach license plates to the bottom of their shoes for a rousing tap routine.
Snyder and Stanley are likeable leads, but without any off-centered attention grabbing inventiveness. Snyder’s efforts, especially, feel imposed rather than coming from some organic spark. He certainly out-swaggers Max Crumm, the American Idol star of the current revival of “Grease,” but both lack the charismatic voltage of a Johnny Depp or an Elvis Presley to provide needed danger. The shortcomings are made all the more evident by two stand-out performances. Chester Gregory II as a soulful Little Richard wannabe, and Carly Jibson, a veteran of “Hairspray,” as Pepper a pregnant sixteen year old. Harriet Harris as the venerable authority figure and Tory Ross as Mona, a tough girl with a disfigured face, also turn in robust brassy characterizations. But in Harris’s case the weak book lets her down.
Although consistently entertaining in a trashy bubble gum kind of way “Cry Baby” with its bright colorful design feels like a pale imitation of “Hairspray” without a hint of danger or the political ramifications of the predecessor.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dans Papers
“Cry Baby” opened on April 24, 2008 at the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway at 46th Street. Tickets are available at Ticketmaster.com, 212-307-4100 or at the box office.