- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

NEW YORK — When the opening number takes place at an Anti-Polio Picnic (where revelers are vaccinated with a gigantic hypodermic needle in lieu of party favors), you know you’re not in Rodgers and Hammerstein territory.

It’s not Hal Prince, it’s the Prince of Puke — filmmaker John Waters, whose 1990 movie “Cry-Baby,” which starred a teen-dreamy Johnny Depp, has been turned into an absurd confection of a musical.

Mr. Waters first foray into respectability came with the 2002 musical adaptation of his film “Hairspray,” which won a slew of Tony Awards and was remade into a movie last summer with John Travolta donning the fat suit to play cloistered Baltimore “hon” Edna Turnblad.

Charm City is again the setting for “Cry-Baby” and it’s 1954 — a time of worrying about Martians and commies, of class distinctions and teen rebellion. Blond, baton-twirling “Square” Allison (Elizabeth Stanley, possessing a thunderous voice that cuts through her character’s treacle) falls for Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (James Snyder, playing the sensitive greaser with gusto), a guitar-slinging, snaky hipped “Drape.” He’s Baltimore’s version of a hood after he and his molls (Carly Jibson, Lacey Kohl and Tory Ross; all trashy, B-movie perfection) crash a country-club affair thrown by Allison’s upstanding grandmother, Mrs. Vernon Williams (the witheringly astringent Harriet Harris).

Directed with sardonic flair by Mark Brokaw, “Cry-Baby” reunites some of the “Hairspray” team. Book writers Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan are back, adding subversive tinges to what is essentially a bad-boy-meets-good-girl plot. However, there’s also new blood in the form of irony-laced lyrics set to raucous, yowling horns, guitars-blazing ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll by young songwriters David Javerbaum (whose credits include “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and the Onion) and Adam Schlesinger from the indie pop group Fountains of Wayne. In addition, Rob Ashford’s choreography brings sex-drenched panache and astounding agility to patent ‘50s dances, while Catherine Zuber’s costumes are a pastel greeting card to the Eisenhower era.

The melodies may be in the Jerry Lee Lewis-Little Richard vein — with a few ventures into Four Freshman or Whiffenpoofs-style clean-cut harmonies — but the lyrics are postmodern, cynical and delightfully crude (“If you value your legs, you’ve come to the right spot” is one nugget from “Anti-Polio Picnic,” a dead-on parody of “Real Nice Clambake” from “Carousel”).

“Cry-Baby” also sends up musical conventions. The sappy love song is given a raunchy twist in “Girl Can I Kiss You …” (an ode to French kissing), the ballad’s excesses are blown sky-high in the wondrously demented “Screw Loose” (a Patsy Cline weeper delivered with star-making fervor by Alli Mauzey), and the requisite fantasy sequence becomes a whacked-out tribute to the power of delusional thinking in “All in My Head.”

The first act is cheerfully anarchic, but the second act — the bete noire of most musicals — is a nonstop rabble-rouser of inventiveness and cheek that climaxes in “Nothing Bad’s Ever Gonna Happen Again,” which joyously slaps around Rodgers and Hammerstein’s cockeyed optimism.

Is “Cry-Baby,” as the poster says, “the greatest thing to hit Baltimore since crab cakes?” Maybe not, but it undoubtedly proves that the wrong side of the tracks is the place to be.


WHAT: “Cry-Baby,” songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, based on the Universal Pictures film written and directed by John Waters. Directed by Mark Brokaw

WHERE: Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway (between 45th and 46th streets), New York

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesdays, 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Indefinite run.

TICKETS: $35 to $225

PHONE: 202/397-7328

WEB SITE: www.crybabyonbroadway.com MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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