So I've been asking myself since I saw Cry-Baby why it doesn't work nearly as well for me as does Hairspray, also adapted from a John Waters' movie, and adapted by the same book writers, Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan. I think the answer lies in the central character. Hairspray's Tracy Turnblad explodes from the opening number into 1962 Baltimore with her own irresistible force and clear thinking that blows away racial and body type prejudices and clears the way for the best of what we call "the '60s." The show has some pretty good tunes, too.
In Cry-Baby the leads are a girl from the upper crust and a boy from the wrong side of the tracks. The clever music and lyrics by David Javebaum and Adam Schlesinger pit a smart parody of 1954 popular music against that awful new stuff, rock 'n' roll. What they write has more to it than most early rock, but it can take off like a ball of fire without losing the wit of its references to those days. And, of course, the good girl soon goes over to the not-really-bad boy.
Remind you of another musical about rock-n-roll kids versus the squares? Yeah, me too.
And in trying to take on more social critique than it can carry, Cry-Baby falls short of the more limited, youthful triumph of Grease. The boy's parents are implicitly compared to the Rosenbergs, executed as Communist spies on flimsy evidence, and that's more weight than this slight show can carry. Cry-Baby has plenty to do on its own, more shallow terms, without going there.
The New Line cast takes the show as far as it can go and then some. Taylor Pietz, getting better with every new role she tackles, finds more depth in the upper crust girl gone slumming than the role has any right to expect. As the boy, Ryan Foizey combines the danger and the sweetness of the early Elvis Presley. As his rival and the leader of the squares, Mike Dowdy combines the bland and the devious. Evan Fornachon, Devon A.A. Norris, and Christopher Stawhun harmonize their support of him. When a number gives them half a chance, bad girls Marcy Wiegert, Chrissy Young, and Sarah Porter take over the stage and take no prisoners. Terrie Carolan creeps you out as a girl who lives on her own planet somewhere. Cindy Duggan drily incarnates polite upper-class arrogance. Ari Scott brings some soul to the proceedings. Zachary Allen Farmer fills in where needed with his usual flair, as do Jenifer Sabbert and Alexandra Taylor.
The New Line Band, led by Justin Smolik, rocks. Robin Michelle Berger's choreography peaks magnificently with the riotous "A Little Upset" number for the men. Scenic designer Scott L. Schoonover's movable panels provide masking without adding much style, in contrast to the full flavors of Amy Kelly's costumes. Sean M. Savoie did the lights and Donald Smith did the sound design. I don't know if that means Smith was responsible for the often muddy amplification of the cast's singing.
New Line's Cry-Baby has some great moments, but for me, the whole is less than the sum of the parts.