John Waters’ Cry-Baby on Broadway Got Tony Nominations.
When the bright lights of the Great White Way shine upon the glossy slicked hair of dancers adorned in sleek black leather jackets ubiquitous to a 1950s soda shop, don’t be surprised when grease isn’t the word. With the upcoming Broadway premiere of the highly anticipated stage adaptation of John Waters’ movie-musical Cry-Baby, even the theater novice can surmise that the nostalgic doo-wop beats from the jukebox era will sing a slightly different song. The show will raise its curtains for Manhattan theatergoers this spring, although it already premiered at the La Jolla Playhouse in California last November.
If Rent was dubbed “the musical for people who hate musicals,” then Cry-Baby is the musical for people who love to hate musicals. What sets Cry-Baby apart is not so much the content as it is the brash context. The story is simple: star-crossed lovers find a connection that defies the sub-cultural taboos of their society. It is Baltimore in 1954, when rock’n’roll began, where the similarities of the tired and trite musical theater formula end, and where Cry-Baby begins. It is here that the parody starts.
It is a battle of the Squares and Drapes. The good and the rebellious. The rich and the poor. Allison Vernon Williams (played by Elizabeth Stanley from the Tony Award-winning revival of Company) is a Square born with a silver spoon and poodle skirt. She’s enticed by the leather- clad charms of Wade – Cry-Baby – Walker, who is played by James Snyder. What follows next is a jailhouse rock extravaganza. The Drapes clash with the Squares and chaos ensues as both sides try preventing the lovers from continuing their affair; an attempt to convince each of them to return to their own side of the tracks. The musical’s production team heralds the show as a “riotous, trashwith- flash spoof” and “a testament to teenage rebellion.” You can expect the unexpected with John Water’s culty flair at the helm. And in Cry-Baby‘s efforts to parody Danny Zuko’s Summer Lovin’, the show manages to capture a human candor lost in Grease. It gives the rebel his true voice and, essentially, his heart.
It’s no wonder that John Waters eventually found the welcoming arms of the Broadway box-office with a previous Blockbuster hit like Hairspray. The Broadway scene has always provided a bastion of heightened eccentrics. This show is a Mecca for the artistically inclined and a safe haven for the dancers who fought adversity, dance straps, ridicule, and name-calling for the chance to someday earn their way to artistic acclaim. Waters, who is artful and empathic in portraying characters who defy the status quo, ones who simply cannot mentally or physically tolerate convention, in many ways possesses the same nurturing lore of the Broadway marquee. He sets the stage to showcase the voices of the underdog and the socially dismissed, crowning them in the hearts of a captivated audience as heroes of the modern world.
This adaptation is written by, Tony Award-winners, Mark O’Donnel and Thomas Meehan, whose finesse in turning a movie-musical into a Broadway hit, dazzles the stage of Hairspray. It is due time for Waters, whose style for the boldly avant-garde juxtaposed with his empathy for the oppressed garnered him icon status on the silver screen. But with his new Broadway entree, his appeal has been revitalized into a commercial success.
With a show that combines the era of the 1950s and the edginess of a new millennium, one might question the production’s choice choreographer. Rob Ashford, whose credentials include a foray of more traditional Broadway shows like Kiss Me Kate and Guys and Dolls, injects a Jerome Robbinsinspired style that moves the large ensemble with a toetapping, finger-snapping, head-bopping bravado, giving even the most jaded theater cynics the sheer exhilaration of a Broadway showstopper. The inside scoop from the production staff testifies a true work in progress. They are utilizing the out-of-town trial for refining and polishing the show in preparation for its Grand Premier in New York this March.
Prevalent to our times – when Perez Hilton society embraces and marvels at the rulebreakers – this show too finds a protagonist in the rebel: a juvenile delinquent with enough tears to collect in a jar. Director Mark Brokaw says, “Just as Water’ films often sympathetically treat outsiders who resist society’s conventions, Cry-Baby too is a celebration of nonconformity.”
With Waters’ sharp shock of non-conformity mixed with a fine grasp on the elusive ability to capture a poignant moment, he has managed to recall the past while keeping the direction ahead of his time. Broadway is just now finally catching up.
Text by Jayzel Samonte
Photography by Gary Land