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Cry-Baby
Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger
Based on the Film Written and Directed by John Waters
Directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor
Choreographed by Michelle Sauer
New Line Theatre
September 27, 2019

Caleb Miofsky, Grace Langford
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre is opening a new season with an old favorite. Their previous production of Cry-Baby was apparently extremely well-received, so now the company has brought it back for a rousing, fun new production. It’s one of those shows that seems made for this company, and the excellent cast of veteran New Liners and talented newcomers makes the most of every moment.

This show, based on a John Waters film that I also hadn’t seen, isn’t quite as simple as it might first appear. The tone is upbeat and rocking, for the most part, although the underlying message is more serious. The characters are deliberately cartoonish and placed into “types”, all in service to the idea that appearances can be deceiving, and strictly enforced social roles can’t (and shouldn’t) substitute for genuine integrity. The setting is 1954 Baltimore, and the conflict is on between the accepted “clean and decent” young people, the Squares, and their parents and respected elders, and the countercultural Drapes (basically greasers), who like loud music, defy accepted social norms, and are looked down upon by the Squares and their supporters. The focus is on a Romeo and Juliet-like “first sight” attraction between baton-twirling Square Allison Vernon Williams (Grace Langford) and “bad-boy” aspiring rock ‘n roller Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (Caleb Miofsky), who is derided for his background by the Squares led by Baldwin Blandish (Jake Blonstein), who is also interested in Allison and who leads a sweater-clad vocal group called The Whiffles (Stephen Henley, Ian McCreary, Christopher Strawhun). Cry-Baby sings regular gigs at a local establishment favored by the Drapes called Turkey Hill, hosted by his friend and aspiring DJ Dupree W. Dupree (Marshall Jennings), and backed by a trio of outspoken, also socially outcast Drapes Pepper Walker (Reagan Deschaine), Wanda Woodward, and Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malronorowski (Sarah Gene Dowling). When Allison’s interest in Cry-Baby becomes obvious and she accepts Cry-Baby’s invitation to join him at Turkey Hill, this upsets the vengeful Baldwin as well as the obsessive Lenora Frigid (Aj Surrell), who is fixated on Cry-Baby and determined to make him notice her. Then there’s the issue of Cry-Baby’s tragic backstory, which causes conflict not only for him, but also for Allison’s socialite grandmother, Cordelia Vernon-Williams (Margeau Steinau), who may know more about what happened than she lets on.

As I’ve already stated, this is a fun show, with a bright, energetic score that’s heavily influenced by early 50s rock and pop, and this production gets that sound just right, not only by means of the excellent singing that’s come to be a given at New Line, but also by the also predictably superb New Line Band, led by Nicolas Valdez, who shares credit as music director of the show with Marc Vincent. It’s also almost impossibly energetic in terms of tone, and some serious topics are covered throughout the course of the sometimes deceptively bouncy score and characterization. As mentioned in the Director’s Notes in the program, it’s essentially about irony, in situation and tone. There are some deep messages thrown in there that (deliberately) clash with the oh-so-hyper-positive tone–issues of questioning social norms and oppressive societies, of the inevitability of social and cultural change, of generation gaps, and more. That’s all there, but the upbeat energy is also infectious even when you know how the story is going to turn out, and what’s going to happen in the larger society after the show’s time period ends.

The cast here is wonderful, led by a star-in-the-making performance from high school senior Miofsky as Cry-Baby. As the frequently misunderstood but still upbeat, kind, well-meaning would-be rock star, Miofsky has it all–the voice, the personality, the stage presence, and the chemistry with his co-stars, especially the equally excellent New Line veteran Langford as the perky but conflicted Allison. She also has a great voice. There are also strong comic performances from Blonstein as the increasingly vengeful, insistently “squeaky clean” Baldwin, Dowling as the confrontational “Hatchet-Face”, and the hilariously off-kilter Surrell as the Lenora. There are also strong performances from Jennings, in great voice as Dupree, and Steinau as the increasingly conflicted “pillar of the community” Mrs. Vernon Williams. There’s a strong ensemble all-around, with excellent singing, energetic dancing choreographed by Michelle Sauer, and cohesive ensemble chemistry that helps to tell the story well.

The production values here are great, too. The time, place, and tone of the show are well-represented in Rob Lippert’s eye-catching set and Colene and Evan Fornachon’s cool, colorful costumes. There’s also excellent lighting by Kenneth Zinkl and sound design by Ryan Day.

Overall, this is a great looking and sounding show with a satirically upbeat 50s flavor and broadly comic tone. With some truly great performances and a memorable score, Cry-Baby is a hit. It’s another example of a show that works better at New Line than it probably would (and did) on Broadway. It’s also (if I haven’t mentioned this before) a whole lot of fun!

Cast of Cry-Baby
Photo by Jill Ritter Lindberg
New Line Theatre

New Line Theatre is presenting Cry-Baby at the Marcelle Theatre until October 19, 2019

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