Story: Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker is the leader of the ‘drapes,’ a gang of undesirables to the thinking of the staid, ‘sensible’ folks in Baltimore, circa 1954. His unsavory past includes being the son of a pair of pacifists who were accused, convicted and executed for setting fire to a local factory, something which Cry-Baby vehemently denies. As such, he has sworn to bring justice to the names of his parents.
Cry-Baby’s group includes his pregnant cousin Pepper, the facially disfigured (“but I’m just as disfigured on the inside”) Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malnorowski and tough-talking Wanda Woodward. Cry-Baby also is pals with Dupree W. Dupree, a DJ at the Turkey Point club and an aspiring rock ‘n’ roll performer.
When perky Allison Vernon-Williams, a girl from the “right side of the tracks,” meets Cry-Baby, the two are mutually smitten. This doesn’t go over well with Allison’s prim and proper grandmother, Mrs. Cordelia Vernon-Williams, nor with Allison’s squeaky-clean boyfriend Baldwin Blandish.
Baldwin and his fellow Whiffles walk the straight and narrow as they prepare their barbershop quartet numbers for the city’s Fourth of July concert. The jealous Baldwin puts extra pressure on Allison to stay away from Cry-Baby and focus instead on her singing role with the Whiffles.
The pull of love is strong, though, for Allison, whose ardor for Cry-Baby not only is tested by Baldwin’s jealousy but also by the wild emotions of the unstable Lenora Frigid, who fixates on Cry-Baby and is determined to have him for herself and damn the consequences.
When the Turkey Point goes up in flames one night, Baldwin accuses Cry-Baby of following in his disgraced parents’ footsteps by torching the place. Cry-Baby professes his innocence, but quickly he and the drapes are thrown into prison.
Allison’s love for Cry-Baby is wavering, first with the criminal accusation and then when Lenora reveals that Cry-Baby has given her the exact same romantic memento that he had insisted was meant only for Allison.
Is Cry-Baby a two-timing arsonist? Or is he rather an outsider whose ‘cool’ persona threatens the button-down world of the Whiffles and other pillars of the community?
Highlights: New Line Theatre gets its 29th season of “adult, alternative musical theatre” off to a smart, high-stepping start with the return of its delightful 2012 regional premiere of the rockabilly musical, Cry-Baby.
Other Info: With a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan and songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, Cry-Baby opened on Broadway in 2008 after a tryout in San Diego. Based on a 1990 film by John Waters, it ended its brief Broadway run after just 113 performances.
A new version by New Line artistic director Scott Miller was approved by the show’s creators with a reduced cast and fresh orchestrations by original orchestrator Chris Jahnke. That production, which played to sold-out houses in 2012, made it a more intimate musical with a 6-piece rock band, according to New Line’s news release.
In his program notes for this 2019 incarnation, Miller writes that “Cry-Baby, with its themes of class and injustice, is even more relevant now than it was when John Waters’ original film was released in 1990 or when the musical debuted.”
Those themes really wouldn’t matter if Cry-Baby was nothing more than a tedious exercise. That isn’t the case, though, with this bright, energized rock musical, which dabbles creatively in several genres, including rockabilly, barbershop quartets and old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.
Directors Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor have a few additional surprises in store for their audience with this newly staged rendition as well. High school senior Caleb Miofsky makes his professional debut in the title role and does it justice, not only in his smooth acting performance but also with his vocal command of numbers such as Watch Your Ass and Nobody Gets Me.
Grace Langford shines in the role of the pristine Allison, showing the young woman emerging from the stifling shadows of her grandmother and others at a time when “it’s great to be a conformist.” Also impressive is Jake Blonstein as the smarmy and nefarious Baldwin, who just won’t cotton to the idea of romantic competition for Allison.
There’s terrific supporting work by Reagan Deschaine, Jaclyn Amber and Sarah Gene Dowling as the gum-popping Pepper, provocative Wanda and scary-looking, intimidating Hatchet-Face, respectively. Stephen Henley, Ian McCreary and Christopher Strawhun (the only actor to appear in both New Line productions) make for a humorous trio of supportive Whiffles to Baldwin.
Marshall Jennings delights as upbeat, musically aspiring Dupree, Margeau Steinau convinces as social maven Cordelia Vernon-Williams and Ashley Judd-lookalike Aj Surrell brings frenzied energy to the part of the off-kilter Lenora. Grace Minnis and Maggie Nold serve well as backup ‘square girls’ and ‘drape girls,’ while Todd Micali is at his entertaining best in several ‘adult’ parts.
Nicolas Valdez conducts the New Line Band in fine, spirited style. Valdez smoothly handles the keyboard with Jake Heberlie on lead guitar, guitarist Aaron Doerr, Joseph Hendricks on reeds, percussionist Clancy Newell and Jake Stergos on bass, all situated off stage left. Valdez and Marc Vincent serve effectively as co-music directors.
Miller and Dowdy-Windsor keep the show moving at an enjoyable, humor-filled pace, putting their cast through an exhilarating interpretation of Michelle Sauer’s infectious choreography. Costume designers Colene Fornachon and Evan Fornachon accentuate the ‘50s outfits with Whiffle ‘W’ crew sweaters, Cry-Baby’s rebel look and Mrs. Vernon Williams’ pearl necklace.
Rob Lippert’s minimal set allows plenty of room for the engaging dance numbers, accentuated by Kenneth Zinkl’s lighting.
Fast times in Baltimore and the clashing of cultures rule the day in this high-spirited, joyful romp of a musical. You’ll shed nary a tear for Cry-Baby but likely instead laugh and tap along in unison with its appealing music.
Company: New Line Theatre
Venue: Marcelle Theater, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive
Dates: October 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Jill Ritter Lindberg