Cry-Baby

Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, score by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger
Marquis Theatre, New York City
(2008)

Production photo

Our former Edinburgh reviewer, Rachel Lynn Brody, has moved back to the United States and is now giving us the occasional taste of US theatre.

It was always going to be difficult for Cry-Baby to live up to the anticipation that surrounded it. As the second of John Waters' kitschy films to be adapted for musical theatre, and following in the wake of Hairspray's enormous success, this twisted take on a Grease-like 50s teen romance was going to need a lot of oomph.

Does it deliver? In some places, yes. The paper-thin plot is sketched in sharp parody at times, with songs in a variety of musical styles contemporary to the production's setting (1954, Baltimore). The meeting of Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker (James Snyder) and Alison (Elizabeth Stnley) in act one is steamrolled into the torrid teenage love affair central to the plot with all due haste. The two leads are unremarkable and generic - which, given the genre they're working in (parody of inoffensive 50s teen movie) may be a conscious choice - with the characters and performers around them really drawing the audience's attention.

Harriet Harris, as Alison's conservative grandmother, conducts herself onstage with a grace and focus that far outshines her younger co-stars. Like a bolt from a different age, it's amazing that she's able to create more of an effect in the closing lines of the second act's "Misery, Agony, Helplessness, Hopelessness, Heartache and Woe" than Snyder managed in the song up to that point.

As Cry-baby's adoring fan Lenora, Alli Mauzey ratchets up the humor in numbers like "Screw Loose" and "All in My Head," while gang-members Pepper, Wanda and Mona (Carly Jibson, Lacey Kohl, and Tory Ross) back up Walker with stellar voices and raunchy, reckless abandon.

There were moments when Cry-Baby really popped, with choreography, book and song coming together perfectly, and it ends on a high note with "Nothing Bad's Ever Gonna Happen Again" - a song which outlines the naïve hope of the time (and an optimism which might resonate with today's audiences).

As a musical based on a send-up of a genre, Cry-Baby loses its teeth a little. It's not that the cast and crew's desire to entertain and engage us is in doubt; rather that perhaps the material is still in need of some tweaking before it's 100% there.

Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody