By PAM HARBAUGH
As mentioned in an earlier post, I’m demurring a bit as a theater critic when it comes to the Henegar Center due to my growing professional relationship with the organization. However, I also warned that I couldn’t stay quiet if a production prompted a strong reaction.
That’s just what the Henegar has done with its production of the community theater world premiere of “Cry-Baby: The Musical.”
This is not the Broadway show, which ran for only 68 performances in 2008. This is the re-tooled musical and wow, it has legs to walk all over this country. In fact, as it is now, “Cry-Baby: The Musical” could very well evoke a cult following similar to shows like “Rocky Horror Show.” It has all the ingredients: Over the top caricatures that audience members could love imitating; irreverent humor; titillating lyrics; music that pops; endless dance potential; and that rare mix of parody and heart.
The musical is based on the 1990 John Waters movie starring Johnny Depp. The stage version has fun, winning music by Adam Schlesinger who goes big with both the early rock ‘n roll and Four Freshman-style harmony; and fresh, laugh out loud lyrics by David Javerbaum, who actually finds a way to rhyme “genitalia” (failure) and “chorus” (depressing thesaurus). The fast-paced book is by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, the same team who adopted Mr. Waters’ 1988 “Hairspray” into a Broadway show and won a 2003 Tony Award for their work.
The story is based in 1954 Baltimore. It’s a time when pent up libidos are primed to burst forth. Elvis (“the Pelvis”) is about to break onto the scene, along with integration not only of race but of social status. So the time is right for a story to be told. Here, it concerns Allison, a sweet young thing with strange stirrings, and Wade Walker, a misunderstood, orphaned teenager nick-named “Cry-Baby” because he cried when his parents died. The two teens meet and fall in love against the backdrop of conformist “squares” and delinquent “drapes.”
Powerhouse singer Gabriella Marchion and charismatic Joey Paris flaunt their own cuteness to perfection as Allison and Cry-Baby, especially in “Girl, Can I Kiss You..(with tongue)?” Shane Frampton brings sexy sass to the “grandmother” role and belts out “I Did Something Wrong-Once” to both vocal and comic perfection. Daniel Grest enjoys a sniveling turn as Baldwin Blandish, the sweater-wearing “square” who plans to marry Allison and “settle down in an unethnic part of town.” A’riel Kastovich positively owns the role of crazy Lenora Frigid, a nut-job with the hots for Cry-Baby and frequent conversations with invisible companions.
Add to this great core some fun, vivid performances by Erin Frank as pregnant 16-year-old Pepper Walker; Michelle Dion as hot-to-trot vixen Wanda Woodward; Mo’Nique Carey as tough “Hatchet Face”; and Donnie Gethers as rock ‘n rolling Dupree Dupree.
Choreographer Amanda Cheyenne Manis creates some faboo choreography, especially in the opening “The Anti-Polio Picnic” number, which is complete with a “roll-on” by a character in an iron lung (I told you, this is irreverent). Andrew Cline’s costume design is extensive and catches the era and the show’s touch of parody. And lighting designer Joshua Huss does splendid work here, using bright, almost cartoon-like hues to saturate the scenery.
Director Hank Rion squeezes every drop of humor from the script, the lyrics and his actors. He moves the show quickly, pushing also for the humanitarian heart that lives in all of Mr. Waters’ work. Conductor Staci Cleveland leads an impeccable six-piece orchestra which drives the rock and pace.
You know…on opening night, one of the pieces of scenery would not “fly out” the way it should have. Apparently the batten and the Henegar’s old counter-weight system just didn’t do what they were supposed to do. But in a way, I believe Mr. Waters would have been charmed by this pimple on an otherwise flawless performance. He extols those marginalized by the beautiful people. He lifts them up to be stars in our eyes. So, too, an old hemp system that got in the way for a little bit of time and flew out a bit later than planned would have been something that he probably would put to good creative use.
So, yeah. This show has legs, but as it’s being performed at the Henegar, it also has heart.
TO SEE A VIDEO PREVIEW, CLICK HERE:
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Cry-Baby: the Musical” runs through May 31 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are $16 to $23. Call 321-723-8698 or visit www.Henegar.org.