Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Man of La Mancha
The strong 2007 stage musical is based on the forgettable 1990 film, and received its first post-Broadway regional production at New Line in 2012. But somehow, this revisiting in 2019 seems much brighter and funnier, directed again by company founder Scott Miller along with co-director, Associate Artistic Director Mike Dowdy-Windsor. Cry-Baby is stuffed with Waters' familiar stock characters, a story of delinquents battling squares in 1950s Baltimore. This new production is a pitch-perfect comedy from start to finish. It ripples with laughter and pulses with exciting songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, under the musical direction of Nicolas Valdez and Marc Vincent. The libretto, adapted from the film, is by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan, who also co-wrote the book for that other stage musical adaptation of a Waters film, Hairspray.
Grace Langford is wonderful (and a bit of a Tracy Turnblad) as Allison, the nice girl who desperately wants to be bad. And Caleb Miofsky is excellent as the brooding boy who falls for her in this collision of the sacred and profane. Allison's grandmother Cordelia, as played by Margeau Steinau, creates an invisible maze of white picket fences all around her granddaughter in order to keep Allison out of trouble (at least, for as long as possible).
Most of the delicious comedy comes in song, in the clash between hyper-conformists and slouching rebels. And The Whiffles, a high school glee club, provides a lot of the fodder for laughs in their numbers. They're contrasted against "the Drapes," the bad girls, who also block Allison's interest in Cry-Baby (Mr. Miofsky). His nickname comes from a Rosenberg-esque back-story involving his leftist parents who were executed for burning down a boot factory during World War II.
The singing is great, which is a given in any New Line show, and the acting is confident and indeliblewith an unexpected quality of frantic ad-libs in the group scenes, adding a manic, spontaneous tone.
Of course, in a comedy, not all of the singing should be great. Aj Surrell is unexpectedly madcap as one of the girls in love with our anti-hero. Like Jo Stafford's alter ego Darlene Edwards, she has a slightly unsupported voice, and just-next-to-on-key tonality. Her big number with Whiffles leader Baldwin Blandish (Jake Blonstein), "All in My Head," is a soft-shoe type masterpiece (without any literal soft shoe) in which we celebrate John Waters' long lineage of seemingly syphilitic scene-stealers. Ms. Surrell is a tad surreal, and Mr. Blonstein is wickedly normative.
Somehow, all the subtle cues of a John Waters film are lovingly reincarnated into this grand stage production, and it doesn't seem like a sign of weakness at all: Marshall Jennings does some of his best work here, as Dupree W. Dupree, in theatrical kinship with Waters' "Motormouth Maybelle" from Hairspray, while outstanding comic actor Todd Micali fills a variety of authoritarian roles with ease and attention to detail. New Line dynamo Sarah Gene Dowling brings all the unapologetic weirdness needed as "Hatchet-Face" Malnorowski, with an indelible stink-eye that traces its lineage back to the cross-dressing actor Divine.
Cry-Baby runs through October 19, 2019, at New Line Theatre, Marcelle Theatre, 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive, St. Louis MO. A lit, fenced, guarded parking lot is just across the street, for all you squares. For tickets and information, visit www.newlinetheatre.com.
The New Line Band:
The Artistic Staff: