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Will 'Cry-Baby' be laughing come Tony time?

April 25, 2008 | 10:24 am

After opening last night to divided reviews, it remains uncertain whether "Cry-Baby" will be smiling or weeping when Tony Award nominations are announced on May 13. The tuner, adapted from John Waters' 1990 movie about a bad boy looking to make good in '50s America, is unlikely to be the awards powerhouse that his "Hairspray" was five years ago. That campy show took home eight Tonys, including best musical.

Crybaby

As this season has produced a mixed bag of musicals, "Cry-Baby" could make it into the final four come Tony time. This week, it was recognized by the Drama League as one of eight outstanding musicals playing on or off-Broadway. And lead actor James Snyder, as well as supporting players Harriet Harris and Alli Mauzey, are among the 69 thespians competing for the distinguished performance prize. However, while the show did make the cut with the Outer Critics Circle for best new Broadway musical, only Harris got a nod from them. This coming Monday's announcement of the Drama Desk nominations could clarify or confuse the situation further.

Even the critics could not come to a consensus. Linda Winer at Newsday thought the show "pleasantly demented and — deep in the sweet darkness of its loopy heart — more true to the cheerful subversion of a John Waters movie than its sentimental big sister 'Hairspray.' " For Winer, "the new musical, directed by Mark Brokaw and exuberantly choreographed by Rob Ashford, is confident - no, proud - of its simple bad taste / good values ancestry. The class-warfare book, by 'Hairspray' adapters Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, keeps importance and sincerity to a delightful minimum. And the word-smart score — by newcomers David Javerbaum (executive producer of 'The Daily Show With Jon Stewart') and Adam Schlesinger (power-pop band Fountains of Wayne) — is a twisted dopey-like-a-fox combination of eight-bar '50s rockabilly for the wild kids and harmonized Eisenhower-kitsch for the rich squares. "

Winer also had kudos for the cast, which "throws itself happily into the peppy, vulgar, deadpan foolishness of the style. If Johnny Depp put Cry-Baby, the rocker-rebel orphan, on the tender side of Elvis Presley and James Dean, James Snyder goes for the irony of Charlie Sheen playing The Fonz. Elizabeth Stanley, as Allison, the good girl who wants to be bad, brings an endearing dorky underbelly to the cliche of the wholesome blonde with the wailing belt. The thoroughly original performance comes from Alli Mauzey as lovesick Leonora - not just Cry-Baby's needy hanger-on, but a genuine nutcase, a delusional stalker with a dangerous look in the corner of her weird eyes. Harriet Harris, who won her Tony Award with Ashford's choreography in 'Thoroughly Modern Millie,' plays Allison's snob-with-a-conscience grandmother with the blasé dazzle of Eve Arden on uppers. "

Elysa Gardner of USA Today gave the show a three-star review. However, she thought less of the leads than of the supporting cast. "Playing Allison's granny and caretaker, Harriet Harris cannily serves lines such as, 'Sweetheart, do you realize what you've done? Getting engaged in the 11th grade! And on the radio! We're Episcopalians.' Cry-Baby's stalker, Lenora, is played by Alli Mauzey, who is willing and able to distort her bell-like voice and cute face in a perfectly pitched comic simulation of utter madness. "

However, Clive Barnes of the New York Post was less impressed, comparing the show unfavorably to "Hairspray." He liked Snyder and loved Harris, calling her "the epitome of a ditz. "

And Ben Brantley of the New York Times called the show "tasteless," explaining, "I meant without flavor: sweet, sour, salty, putrid or otherwise. This show in search of an identity has all the saliva-stirring properties of week-old pre-chewed gum. "

Michael Kuchwara of the AP asked, "Can we shed a tear for 'Cry-Baby,' a strenuous, insistently cartoonish stage adaptation of John Waters' cinematic trash fest? Well, maybe one or two. The laborious musical works hard at trying to entertain, never relaxing for a moment as it tells a familiar story: the romance between a good girl and a bad boy, set against the backdrop of 1950s social mores and mortality. "

Finally, for David Rooney of Variety, "this watered-down Waters has yielded a flavorless Broadway musical that revels in its down-and-dirtiness yet remains stubbornly synthetic. There's a lot of talent, sass and sweat onstage, particularly in the dance department, plus a sprinkling of wit in the show's good-natured vulgarity. But somehow, it never quite ignites. "

(Photo: Marquis Theater)

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Comments

it stinks on ice (sorry, ice).... enough with the John Waters adaptations already...

Well, the Drama Desk nominations came out today, and the "courageous and substantive" (to quote a poster below) new musical "Cry-Baby" didn't make the cut. In fact, it only got one nomination for choreography. I would say that the show's Tony prospects have significantly dimmed.

Thought Cry-Baby was wonderfully entertaining. The choreography was outstanding and the songs were catchy and upbeat. It's a fun night out, and I'd gladly see it again.

This synopsis does a decent job with one major omission. The Wall Street Journal review provided the most accurate and intelligent analysis of the show pointing out that musical parody is the most difficult form of musical theater because it deliberately omits genuine sentiment and emotion. It seems that many of the negative reviews missed this point entirely by claiming the show has no heart. I would contend that Cry-Baby has a very big heart indeed, one that puts a point on much of what was wrong in 50's society that still echoes today. The vehicle for this social commentary is humor, bald-faced edgy statements that are so blunt and pointed they make us laugh because of their audaciousness. But everything in the book is a reflection of our history and rooted in reality. Cry-Baby is in fact courageous and substantive as well as joyous and ludicrous as it traverses this era in American history. There is even an explicit appeal for the end of a long and dreadful history of aggression and exploitation in the closing number "Nothing Bad's Ever Gonna Happen Again." The show lets us laugh at all sorts of ugliness and dream of beauty in the process.

Crybaby is going to be one of those "Critics rebuff / Public loves" musicals.
I saw this show the night b4 opening. I loved it and I wasn't alone. I understand that if you're a little dense, you can miss the Jon Waters irony that permeates every layer, but the rest of us were rolling on the floor. This musical was fun and there were awesome performances and the dancers amazed. Miss this and you'll be sorry. I feel so lucky that saw it before I read the reviews because so often I heed their warnings. Yes!

Saw "Cry-Baby" last week -- and it was awful. Lots of people left during intermission. I don't think it really has any significant shot at major Tony nominations.

And I wouldn't read too much into the very few positive notices -- most of the major reviews were mixed-to-bad.

I saw "Cry Baby" in previews and was invited to see it again on Tuesday.

Personally, while it is no "Passing Strange," which is the best new show I've seen this season, I thought it was energetic and fun.

Newsday had it right about Alli Mauzey. She is unique and steals the show with her wacky play on an insane stalker. I noticed that Ben Brantley called the prison break dance number 'fascist,' but he really needs to lighten up. It was one amazing, extended dance number that was fully impressive in its own right.

It wasn't a deep evening, and you it may not have the depth of a Sondheim, but it was a well-crafted entertaining evening of theatre.


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