Robin Michelle Berger's choreography gives the show one big shot in the arm after another, from the "anti-polio picnic" right up through the closing dance party (where the deepest irony of all creeps in, in the finale "Nothing Bad's Ever Gonna Happen Again"). The simple, multi-purpose set keeps things from getting too fancy in the endearing, early John Waters' tradition; and stylish 1950s rock numbers just keep tumbling out, with lyrics that are often surprisingly funnyin the tradition of cable TV's "The Daily Show," which supplied one of the songwriters (David Javerbaum, along with Adam Schlesinger).
Taylor Pietz is excellent as the nice girl in love with the bad boy (Mr. Foizey), and Mike Dowdy is (one hates to say "as usual") maniacally funny trying to "save" her for a stratified country-club life. All three performers seem very different from one another: the loose-limbed heartthrob; the beautiful girl tasting temptation; and the head of the glee club who'll stop at nothing to drive them apart. In them, and all through the cast, Mr. Miller develops such strong characters, along with (the usual) excellent music, that we are utterly swept away.
That said, you can't help noticing that John Waters' own career has a definite "before and after" quality to it: from his early years as a struggling filmmaker in Baltimore, to his popular breakthrough with the original movie Hairspray. Stop and think: the same man who had his muse, Divine, raped by a 9-foot-tall lobster in a church (in Multiple Maniacs) went on, after Hairspray, to make Serial Mom (for example), which looks suspiciously like a tribute to The Thrill of it All. And yes, chronologically, this New Line production of Cry-Baby falls into the latter half of his oeuvre, with fine actors in convincing portrayalsas opposed to, well, the early (outrageous and endearing) crap, where pulled-off-the-street actors probably couldn't even spell the word "satire," though that's what they were doing all along. But the immense charm of this show is undeniable.
In its regional premiere, Terrie Carolan nearly walks off with the whole works as a girl-gone-wild for Cry-Baby, and Cindy Duggan brings a good, dismayed Lotte Lenya type of introspection to her final number as Ms. Pietz' grandmother, beginning to unravel the injustice that's governed their lives. Marcy Wiegert, Chrissy Young and Sarah Porter are wonderfully slinky as the "Drapes," the female delinquents, and Evan Fornachon, Devon A.A. Norris and Christopher Strawhun provide great harmony and lighthearted comedy as Mr. Dowdy's "Whiffles" singing group.
Ari Scott is fun and smooth and electric as the host/singer at a juke joint, and Zachary Allen Farmer is predictably perfect as a judge, policeman and prison padre. The show's long, loose prison escape ballet is an unlikely, manic highlight, but there's really not a sour note in the whole two hours.
Cry-Baby, with book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, runs through March 24, 2012, at the South Campus of Washington University, 6501 Clayton Rd. For information visit www.newlinetheatre.com or call (314) 534-1111.
The New Line Band