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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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Hairspray
Book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
Music by Marc Shaiman, Lyrics by Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman
Directed by Dan Knechtges
Choreographed by Dan Knechtges and Jessica Hartman
The Muny
June 23, 2015

Bryan Batt, Ryann Redmond, CHarlotte Maltby Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Bryan Batt, Ryann Redmond, CHarlotte Maltby
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny

Welcome to Tracy Turnblad’s Baltimore! Hairspray, the second production in the Muny’s 2015 summer season, has been brought to life with style and humor on stage in Forest Park. With a strong cast and stylish, evocative production values, this is a fun show with an important message and lots of heart.

Based on John Waters’ original 1988 film, Hairspray tells the story of Tracy (Ryann Redmond), a perky teenager in 1962 Baltimore. Tracy’s immediate ambition is to dance on a local hit TV show, The Corny Collins Show, which she watches every day after school with her geeky best friend Penny Pingleton (Charlotte Maltby)  She lives with her loving goofball father Wilbur (Lara Teeter), who runs a joke shop, and her reclusive seamstress mother, Edna (Bryan Batt) who, like Tracy, is overweight but lacks Tracy’s self-confidence. When Tracy gets a chance to audition for the show, her ambition is initially thwarted by the show’s villainous producer, Velma Von Tussle (Heather Ayers), whose aim to to further the celebrity chances of her selfish daughter Amber (Taylor Louderman), who’s popular on the show but isn’t a great dancer. Tracy is also attracted to the show’s teen heartthrob, Link Larkin (John Battagliese), who is ostensibly dating Amber.  When Tracy is sent to detention at school, however, she gains a new reason for getting on the show. She meets Seaweed J. Stubbs (Gerald Caesar), a talented African-American dancer who features once a month on the show’s “Negro Day”, which is hosted by his mother,  Motormoth Maybelle (Liz Mikel), who owns a local record store. After befriending Seaweed and his family and friends, Tracy makes it her goal to integrate the Corny Collins Show so all the dancers, black and white, can dance together. Meanwhile, her mother Edna is brought along on her own journey to regain her sense of self-worth, supporting her daughter’s cause. Along the way, romantic entanglements, trouble with the law, and the schemes of the self-serving Von Tussles complicate the proceedings.

I haven’t seen the original film, but I don’t think that’s necessary in order to enjoy this immensely entertaining show. Tracy is an extremely likable character, as are her family and friends. The villains are a bit cartoonish, but that’s kind of the style of this show. It’s a show that sheds light on some of the more unsavory aspects of this country’s history, with a message that is still relevant today, but the overall emphasis is on hope, as Tracy and her friends fight for the cause of integrating the show and don’t back down. Everything is big, bright and full of energy, and although the story and its ultimate conclusion are fairly predictable, the show communicates its message of acceptance with heart, infectious energy, and the great 60’s styled songs by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, with modern musical theatre classics such as “Good Morning Baltimore”, “Welcome to the 60s”, “I Can Hear the Bells” and “You Can’t Stop the Beat”.

The Muny’s production has assembled an excellent cast to tell this story. Redmond, as Tracy, has just the right amount of bubbly energy and charm, along with a strong singing voice and good dance ability. She’s thoroughly believable as a dreamer who goes after her dreams, bringing her family and friends along on her mission. Equally engaging is Batt, best known from TV’s Mad Men, as Tracy’s mother, Edna. He admirably doesn’t overplay the role, but brings verve, substance and heart to Edna and displaying excellent on stage chemistry with both Redmond as Tracy and Teeter as the sweetly goofy Wilbur. Their duet, “You’re Timeless to Me” is a sweet highlight of the show. There’s also excellent support from Maltby, a scene-stealer as the quirky Penny, and Caesar as the charming Seaweed, who is a terrific dancer. Mikel as Motormouth Maybelle also turns in a memorable performance, particularly in the second act delivering the powerful song “I Know Where I’ve Been”, and young Kennedy Holmes is delightful as Seaweed’s little sister and fellow dancer, Little Inez. Battagliese gives an amiable performance as Link, as well,  the show’s villains, Ayers and Louderman, are appropriately villainous, and Christopher J. Hanke is suitably suave as TV host Collins.

 Visually, this show is a nostalgic treat. With a vibrant color scheme of bright pinks, bold greens, oranges, and blues, costume designer Leon Dobkowski (basing his designs on the orginals by William Ivey Long) has brought an appealing 60s atmosphere to the show, featuring some eye-catching outfits for the dancers, Tracy and Edna particularly. Robert Mark Morgan’s set is whimsical and evocative, featuring a giant TV set as the centerpiece, and live video (designed by Matthew Young) during the Collins Show segments. It’s a stylish, visually pleasing production that reflects the energy of the show itself.

 Although I had seen the 2007 filmed version of the musical, I had never seen Hairspray on stage before. I think the Muny’s production is an ideal introduction to the show. Tracy Turnblad is a young girl with a dream and with aspirations to change the world, starting with Baltimore. The Muny has brought us into Tracy’s world with humor, drama, music and style.

 

 

Cast of Hairspray Photo by Phillip Hamer The Muny

Cast of Hairspray
Photo by Phillip Hamer
The Muny 

 Hairspray runs at the Muny until June 30th, 2015.

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