THEATERMANIA: How did you get the part of Wade "Cry-Baby" Williams?
JAMES SNYDER: I happened to be in New York for a reading of show called Rock of Ages and [casting director] Bernie Telsey said I should look at the script. So I auditioned, did a reading, and then there was another audition with John Waters. He didn't say much, but he has the best posture I've ever seen and sits with a great smirk. I was actually also going out for Xanadu on the same day. That was quite a day.
TM: How familiar were you with the original John Waters movie?
JS: I hadn't seen it in a long time, so I watched the movie before the audition. I actually got the DVD with the director's commentary. It has just a great camp factor and a great heart, and it's wonderful to see Johnny Depp in the early stages of his career. But it's not my job to worry about how I'm compared to Johnny. Plus, the part in the musical is very different from the movie -- and I think the brilliance of the lyrics make a difference. One of the big changes is that Cry-Baby is a pacifist and his dead parents were innocent of the crime they were charged with -- so I have this journey to restore the honor of my family name.
TM: This show seems extremely physical. Was that hard for you?
JS: There is a ton of dance -- and I never thought of myself as a dancer. So I had to steal a lot of moves from Elvis, Gene Vincent, and whoever swiveled their hips at the time. Our choreographer, Rob Ashford, and I work so well together. He knows what I can do, and gives me confidence -- even if he is part sadist. During the workshop, I had lost some weight due to the stomach flu, and I decided to keep it off because John Waters told me guys in the 1950s didn't have gym bodies. It's actually awesome that I didn't have to lift weights anymore.
TM: How much did it help you to do the show first at the LaJolla Playhouse last fall?
JS: It would've been tough to do this show cold in New York. I definitely learned so much in La Jolla. One of the things I've learned is not to go on the Internet now and read the gossip, though I did read a little bit about the show from tried-and-true sources to see how the show was being perceived. The only problem is my mom Googles me every day and calls and tells me everything she reads.
JS: I've learned so much from Harriet Harris and Richard Poe. I always say we have a matriarch and a patriarch. It not just that Harriet can steal a scene with a blink of an eye, but she sets the standard on how to focus and how to prepare. She is so efficient in rehearsals. She's really just a wonderful soul. And I also have to say that Elizabeth Stanley, who plays my love interest Allison, is just brilliant.
TM: You're originally from a small down in northern California, and then you moved to Los Angeles. What has been the transition to being a New Yorker?
JS: Growing up, I lived on the same street of this tiny town my whole life, so now I am on the front page of the local newspaper. That's always fun. I think it takes a lot of courage to be an actor here; it's a much different struggle than L.A. But the theater community is so tight and familial, which is great. In L.A. you just do lunch. One of the hardest parts for me being here is I get swept up by energy, I just want to do as much as I can when I'm here. The other bad part is I miss my girlfriend. She's a fashion designer who just started her own business. I need her to follow her dream, so I don't want her to just be out here for me.
TM: There's a definite possibility you could be nominated for -- or even win -- a Tony Award. Have you thought about that?
JS: Someone said that to me in LaJolla, and I thought "what are you talking about?" Now I realize it's a huge possibility. One can hope for the best, but I don't want to talk or think too big. I just feel lucky to be here.
For TheaterMania's Cry-Baby video, click here.