Few surprises in tale of bad boy meets good girl
If you’re thinking about writing a script about how a naive, good, teenaged girl from a wealthy family falls in love in a split second with a leather-wearing, slickedhair bad boy, don’t. It’s been done. And, at this point, it’s over done.
You can see the latest edition, “Cry-Baby,” presented by Hamilton Theatre Inc., at their wonderfully intimate theatre until Nov. 25.
The musical opens in a park in 1954. It’s the anti-polio picnic and the upper echelons of Baltimore society are waiting to get inoculated. However, a gang of social misfits interrupts the festivities. Clad in leather, with a swagger that screams sex and shenanigans, these hooligans – led by the nogood, lower class orphan Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker (in a solid performance from Christian BellYoung) – swing the narrative into motion. Think “Grease” or “Dirty Dancing,” but unlike these musicals, with their memorable songs and ongoing stage presence, “CryBaby” is a relative, lesser-known newcomer.
So the challenge becomes creating a production that – despite knowing exactly how things will pan out – you want to keep watching. And with “Cry-Baby” you don’t. Fans of the John Waters’ movie of the same name will likely disagree.
But this script by Thomas Meehan and Mark O’Donnell (“Hairspray”), with music and lyrics by Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum, fails to give us memorable songs or even a surprise in a well-worn plot. The only original – and, therefore, funny – bits are when the Squares attend the picnic, boogie while wearing blingedup gas masks and mark the installation of the bomb shelter and air raid siren.
At times, the plot doesn’t even make sense. Why, for instance, is there a character who looks worse than the “Bride of Chucky”? Mona “Hatchet-Face” Malnorowski (played with a perfect amount of sass by Erin Spina) gets a facelift while in prison. But why? It’s ridiculous.
The gems in this production come from the cast themselves. Vincent Perri is excellent as Baldwin Blandish (get it?), the leader of the Whiffles and your allround, despicable WASP. Now, you already know that he wants the good girl, Allison Vernon-Williams, and he’ll do anything to get her, including incriminate CryBaby. Karen Chorney turns in a decent performance as Allison, though at times her voice is a tad shrill.
You’ve got to hand it to BellYoung and Chorney, though. There are cringe-worthy scenes here and they don’t flinch – even when they’re singing, “Girl, Can I Kiss You with Tongue?” I’ll leave it there.
Ed Canning is a delight as Judge Stone, though you wonder why, if they’re in Baltimore, he has a Southern drawl. Still, he’s a shining star, as is Victoria Kyoko as Allison’s grandmother. Kyoko’s vocals are exceptional, and her connection
with the audience captivating. Bethany Charters steals the show as Lenora Frigid when she sings “Screw Loose.” She’s in love with Cry-Baby but she is also so obviously mentally ill that it’s hard to laugh at all her antics.
As an audience, we’re prepared to suspend our disbelief. But, at times, we’re being asked to stretch so far, it’s just not possible. The cast is much older than the mostlyteenaged characters. One girl in Cry-Baby’s gang tells us she’s 16 and pregnant. It’s just not fathomable.
Also, the lack of set changes – we see the park background for pretty much the entire play – is disappointing. However, full marks to the costume crew – Charters, Kyoko, Bree McLean-Roberts, Christina Docouto, Aaron Duarte and Malika Swaleh – particularly for the little details, such as the red, white and blue bow ties and star-filled lapels on the Whiffles’ white jackets. Also, directors Tim Denis and McLean-Roberts give us some wonderful choreography.
“Cry-Baby” touches on racism, classism and Americanism – Baldwin calls the Fourth of July, “like the Christmas of Squaredom” – but it’s too brushed over to make any real statements.
It could be that despite a talented cast and excellent musicians – the band, located above the stage, occasionally overpowers the vocals, though – it’s the script that’s at fault here. And that’s certainly not Hamilton Theatre Inc.’s fault. To test the theory, make sure you give them another chance this season with either “High School Musical” or “The Wedding Singer.”
From left, Olivia Vaughan, Jeff Gordon, Aaron Duarte, Kayla Mazepa, Roy Dear, Vincent Perri, Aramenta Sobchak, Christian Bell-Young, Karen Chorney, Kaytee Alcock, Brian Vaughan, Concetta Roche, Kristy Souter in Hamilton Theatre Inc.’s production of "Cry-Baby."