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Cry-Baby

Rob Ashford's propulsive choreography is the main reason to see this otherwise so-so musical adaptation of John Waters' 1990 film.

By New York City
James Snyder, Alli Mauzey, Christopher J. Hanke,
and Elizabeth Stanley in Cry-Baby
(© Joan Marcus)
James Snyder, Alli Mauzey, Christopher J. Hanke,
and Elizabeth Stanley in Cry-Baby
(© Joan Marcus)
If you're somehow unaware that today's Broadway producers are ravenous to adapt every movie ever made into a musical comedy, you might wonder why any clear-headed person would think John Waters' mediocre 1990 movie musical Cry-Baby had much potential to knock the Great White Way on its Tin-Pan-Alley ear. And while it turns out the reasons are many -- from the success of another Waters-based musical, Hairspray, a plotline reminiscent of another Broadway warhorse, Grease, and the presence of an Elvis Presley-like hero -- those rationales ultimately don't add up to making Cry-Baby a musical truly worth anyone's precious time.

The only element that raises the so-so tuner -- which features a book by Tony Award winners Thomas Meehan and Mark O'Donnell and an all-new score by Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum -- to wowee level is Rob Ashford's choreography, which the creative team has at least been savvy enough to rely on from start to finish. Indeed, director Mark Brokaw's main contribution seems to be getting out of Ashford's way.

Throughout the story of Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker (James Snyder) -- a bad boy who's truly good -- and Allison (Elizabeth Stanley) -- a good girl who wants to be bad -- the ensemble's extraordinary dancers are in constant propulsive body-motion. The paces Ashford and associate choreographer Joey Pizzi put them through goes a long way towards keeping audience attention focused. The absolute standout sequence takes place in a jailhouse, during which the ultra-athletic terping-and-tapping contingent attaches license plates to the soles of their shoes. Something this disarming hasn't been spotted on Broadway since Michael Bennett staged a show-stopping clog dance in the 1966 flop, A Joyful Noise.

The show's faults also can't be laid at the feet of its hard-working cast. The prime scene-stealer is Alli Mauzey as Lenora, a wacko teen so obsessed with landing Cry-Baby that she even feigns pregnancy, and who also gets points for putting across a ditty called "Screw Loose" that Javerbaum and Schlesinger seem to have plotted as a parody of Patsy Cline's "Crazy." The other scene-grabber is Harriet Harris as Mrs. Vernon Williams, Allison's uptight grandmother, who can always land a laugh when it's there to be landed, but has trouble with the too many lame gags she's been handed.

Snyder and Stanley give their evident all, but come off as watered-down Waters. Christopher J. Hanke does well as Baldwin, a warped square who expects Allison's hand (but is ultimately prepared to settle for Lenora's), while Carly Jibson, Lacey Kohl, and Tory Ross register nicely as bad girls whose only goal is to be worse. And a salute to Chester Gregory II as Cry-Baby's best pal Dupree. The actor, who toured not that long ago in The Jackie Wilson Story, reprises some Wilson mike-stand calisthenics when blaring a James Brown-inspired number dubbed "Jukebox Jamboree."

Scott Pask's sets, which come and go like ships passing in the night, include an inordinate number of regular and makeshift stages to accommodate the many songs that Javerbaum and Schlesinger have written to be delivered from them. Indeed, it's conceivable that the biggest waste on the Marquis stage is the quality -- not quantity -- of the songwriters' talents. Every once in a while a lyric that strongly suggests promise pokes through; for example, rhyming "failure" with "genitalia" is a sign of genuine wit. So theatergoers concerned with the future of the musical might want to watch for what Schlesinger and Javerbaum do next. On the other hand, should their Cry-Baby meet an early demise, it's likely few tears will be shed.


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