Cry Baby opened at Slayton House in Columbia, MD this week. The play is based on a 1990s movie by John Waters of Hairspray fame and directed and choreographed by Tommy Malek. The play was turned into a musical by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan with music and lyrics by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, a lá Hairspray. It opened on Broadway in 2008 to mixed reviews. However, the musical probably works better in a smaller regional venue. The music is fun and bouncy and the story, well, is a typical John Waters’ love story and social commentary about class culture and is always optimistic. The plot is predictable but similar to Grease, as the music and joy of the trip down memory lane makes this ride well worth it.
The story, like most of John Waters’ tales, takes place in Baltimore in the late 1950s when rock and roll and the seeds of the love and peace generation were taking place. Add a little bit about Civil Rights and the Communist scare of the McCarthy era. It follows two young lovers, Allison (Lindsey Litka) and Wade “Cry Baby” Walker (Michael Nugent). The former is a young rich orphan being raised by her snobby and puritanical grandmother, Mrs. Cordelia Vernon-Williams (Conni Ross), and the latter is also an orphan whose parents were killed for committing arson and being pacifists. Both are surrounded by friends and family who reflect their stations in life.
Nugent does credit to the title character. He not only has the good looks that allow us to believe he is a heartthrob, but his singing captures the style of Presley and others from that era. He has wonderful stage presence and easily captures our attention and keeps it throughout the show. The best examples of this is his performance in the two songs “Girl, Can I Kiss You” – a real hoot – and “Do That Again,” where he really reminds us of the King of R&R.
Litka understands the very naïve Allison and brings us a very credible good girl attracted to the “bad” boy. She and Nugent are marvelous together in “I’m Infected” and, along with others in the cast, “Misery.” Both leads can both dominate the stage and also step back and give the spotlight over to the very capable supporting cast.
Ross leads this supporting group. She is funny and, sometimes, the villain as Mrs. Vernon-Williams. I really like her rendition of “I Did Something Wrong Once,” a confessional piece that, although a plot contrivance, becomes a fine piece of comedy.
Backing up the character Cry Baby are Amy E. Haynes as the very pregnant Pepper Walker, Parker Bailey Steven as Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malnorowski, Clare Kneebone as the sexpot, Wanda Woodward, and Monique Cheryse Wilson in a cross-dress role – so typical of a Waters script – as Dupree W. Dupree. The three female characters are hysterical in “A Whole Lot Worse,” and Wilson recreates the 50s boogie-woogie sound in the number “Juke Box Jamboree.”
Backing up Allison is a group called The Whiffles (Johnny Dunkerly, Jacob Hale and Jeff Miller) led by the spoiled and evil Baldwin, played by Matt Sorak. Their songs reflect the groups that still were popular in that era that were anti-rock and roll. They had wonderful harmonies but were white and, at least, their public personae were squeaky clean which just happens to be the name of the song The Whiffles sing in Act I. They again hit the mark in Act II with the satirical song “Thanks for the Nifty Country.”
However, the show stealer might very well be Bailey Wolf as Lenora Frigid whether she is singing the perfectly named, “Screw Loose” or in her part in the ensemble piece, “All in My Head.” She creates one of my favorite crazy characters in a long time. We love her, but know she is really quite unbalanced.
The very talented troupe is filled with fine performances by Richard Greenslit as Judge Stone and Officer O’Brien, Christopher Kabara as The Bailiff, Mr. Woodward and the DJ, and the wonderful ensemble – Bradley Allen, Derek Anderson, Maddie Bohrer, Libby Burgess, Ty’Aira Johnson, Lauren Romano, and Jamie Williams.
Malek keeps this musical moving. We never really have a chance to think too long about the contrived plot or stereotypical characters. We just keep our toes taping along with lots of loud laughter. The choreography never makes the actors, who may lack dance training, from looking awkward. Malek often features the dancers who have the most ability in the front and center of the stage. Malek and Alex Porter are credited with the set design. The set also reflects the best of Silhouette Stages. It has lots of moving, flexible pieces that are very profession in appearance. They use several platforms that help create wonderful images. The lighting design by Christopher Fazzari is also top notch. The costumes were vintage 1950 and Costume Manager Clare Kneebone does well to keep the changes quick. Wigs also help create the era and Malek did those designs. The rock band is led by Music Directors Nathan C. Scavilla and John Keister. The band is just the right volume to allow us to hear the actors but still keep that rock sound. It includes Rachel Sandler, conductor and keyboards; Diego Retana, guitar; Alex Kuethe, bass; and Evander McClean, drums.
Don’t miss this production of Cry Baby. I promise a great time and the only tears will be from laughing so hard you will cry.
Running Time: Two hours, with an intermission.
Cry Baby plays through October 29, 2017 at Silhouette Stages performing at Slayton House Theatre in Wilde Lake Village Center— 10400 Cross Fox Lane, in Columbia, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 637-5289, or purchase them online.