Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Light and Fluffy “Cry Baby” Packs a Powerful Dancing Punch

"Cry Baby," based on the 1990 movie starring Johnny Depp, is the second John Waters movie to be turned into a Broadway musical. Though currently in previews, I decided to catch a recent performance of the musical to see how it compared with "Hairspray," Water’s first Broadway outing. And while it’s not really fair to assume these shows would be similar, it’s inevitable to compare them because the writing team is the same for both. The musical elements of the show, however, were written by somebody else. And while the music is fun and peppy, it's not as crisp and laser-perfect as the score for “Hairspray” was. The show also doesn’t include an underlining social commentary, except maybe Rich vs. Poor, a theme so uncomfortably prevalent in today’s society that it almost comes across as passé.

This is not to say that “Cry Baby” isn’t a lot of fun, because it is. Like Cotton Candy, it’s light, airy and full of fluff; a colorful calliope of sugary confection. But also like Cotton Candy, you know as soon as you take a bite of it, you’ll be left with nothing but air. In other words, there is nothing particularly original or ground-breaking about the story, the characters, or the so-called plot of the show. It’s the tried-and-true tale of the socially elite good girl who falls for the morally ambiguous bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Grease meets West Side Story meets Happy Days. But who cares? I doubt anyone is going to see this show for intellectual stimulation. And for those non-discriminatory people, “Cry Baby” delivers whole-heartedly. The stars of the show are pitch perfect in their campy characterizations, including “Frasier” alumni Harriet Harris as the prim and proper Aunt.

But the one element that sets “Cry Baby” apart from other musicals on Broadway is the amazing display of athletic and energetic dancing by the supporting cast. Rob Ashford’s choreography is truly incredible. His first-rate dancers appear to be made of rubber, as they bounce, jump and fly across the stage. It’s almost animalistic at times, even primeval. Or at least that’s what I assumed as I watched one particularly nimble male dancer shake and gyrate so aggressively, it appeared as if he was auditioning for gay porn. (Or maybe he already has.)

So if you’re looking for pure escapist fun, with a fun rock and roll sensibility, “Cry Baby” will knock your socks off.

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