Opinions aren’t fact, but everybody has ’em, especially your trusty theatre reviewers at Theatre Is Easy. This week marks the first installment of a new series, “Point/Counterpoint,” in which my friend Zak and I go head to head on various plays. To start it off, we tackle the new John Waters-inspired musical Cry-Baby.
POINT — Zak
So, where do I begin? Cry-Baby, the new musical based on the 1990 John Waters film of the same name, tells the story of a strait-laced, bobby-socks-wearing girl who falls for the bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. And that’s pretty much all that happens in just over two hours of “musical mayhem.”I was actually pretty excited about this show because the songwriting team includes David Javerbaum, executive producer of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, and Adam Schlesinger, a member of one of my favorite bands, Fountains of Wayne, and an Academy Award nominee for penning “That Thing You Do!,” the title song from that ’60s-tastic Tom Hanks movie from 1996. Needless to say, there’s a lot of talent on this team, so I don’t know what happened — all of the music captures the era perfectly, but none of it’s that memorable, with the exception of Alli Mauzey’s offbeat rendition of “Screw Loose.” It’s nice, but don’t expect to leave the theater humming or remembering it or any of the other songs from Cry-Baby.
But the problem isn’t really the music — it’s the story. The innocent good girl falls in love with the hip-swiveling Cry-Baby in the first scene and then two and a half hours later they end up together. So why do we care? Oh, right — we don’t. The show tries to be dirty and bizarre but falls completely flat. The dancing is fun and high-spirited, and the tap number performed on license plates in the second act is actually pretty amazing. But don’t go expecting a show that is anywhere near as satisfying as Hairspray. Go for an evening of completely mindless entertainment.
COUNTERPOINT — Molly
I didn’t hate Cry-Baby. Actually, I kind of enjoyed it. Did it take me to a wonderful place of imagination and theatrical magic? Not so much. But it did make me giggle a little and “ooooh” a little at the spectacle.
Sure, Cry-Baby has its problems, the biggest one being the absence of a sympathetic character to care about, so what happens onstage is of no consequence to the audience. But getting past that, it’s a clever little show with a hefty Broadway budget. I’m a big fan of Waters’s movie, which stars Johnny Depp, Amy Locane (Melrose Place), and Ricki Lake; it’s irreverent, a little raunchy, and about as campy as you can get. The musical maintains the film’s irreverence but raises the camp quotient to as high a level as one can feasibly achieve while still hoping to sell tickets.
Cry-Baby is also smart and self-deprecating, which I respect in quirky musical theatre. In the last song there’s a line that goes “[something, something] snobby, buy a sweatshirt in the lobby,” referring to the merchandise booth just outside the theatre’s door. There’s something about self-mockery that I find endearing, especially when it’s being sung by a talented soprano.
Although there were no remarkable moments for me, I thought Cry-Baby was a pretty enjoyable experience. A couple of the songs hit the mark, and the actors certainly have the chops to be singing them (though they’re a little too old to be playing high schoolers). There’s definitely an audience for a play like Cry-Baby; I recommend it for those who love how fun and happy musical theatre can be, and who enjoy camp with a modicum of intelligence (and don’t mind that the story and music are less than captivating).
Cry-Baby plays at the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway at 45th St. — Tue 7 PM, Wed-Sat 8 PM (also Wed and Sat 2 PM), Sun 3 PM — and runs two hours and 15 minutes. Tickets are $35-$120 and are available by calling 212-307-4100 or 800-755-4000; student rush tickets are $26.50 and are available day of show at the box office. Visit crybabyonbroadway.com for more info.