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.
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)