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New York City Theater

Marquis Theater

“Cry-Baby,” the amusing but stale throwback to still another John (“Hairspray”) Waters film, touches the right jukebox buttons without actually being a jukebox musical. (That is, its score is new). An idea of its antic humor is its first number, “The Anti-Polio Picnic.” The occasion is a charity event held by do-gooder Mrs. Vernon-Williams that features a victim in an iron lung no less. Mrs. V-W presides over a squeaky clean crew at odds with, of course, leather-wearing, tattooed hoods from the other side of the tracks.

The conflict between the two groups (guess which turns out to be more fun?) is the evening’s predictable through-line. The hoods are headed by Cry-Baby himself, so named because he has vowed not to shed a tear since his parents’ funeral (they were executed as communist spies, although they were really just pacifists, an underexplored subplot). “I’m in complete command / of the lachrymal gland / in each eye,” he sings, in one of the show’s bouncy lyrics.

His followers include hot men, loose women and a James Brown type named Dupree, impersonated by the powerhouse Chester Gregory II, who kicks up the temperature with “Jukebox Jamboree.” (See, you can’t get away from that jukebox.)

The scanty libretto by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan finds a bit of complexity towards the end when Mrs. V-W pours out a confession and sings a mea culpa song called “I Did Something Wrong . . . Once.” As performed by Harriet Harris, an actress specializing in iron-fist-in-velvet-glove roles, the sequence is hilarious.

Harris isn’t the only reason to appreciate some of this pointless, harmless musical. James Snyder is appealing as the title character and Alli Mauzey makes a smashing, award-worthy impression as the loony Lenora.

Rob Ashford’s choreography is the season’s best. His dance for jailbirds’ cavorting with license plates strapped to their shoes is memorable. (The evening wakes up in Act Two.) David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger’s songs include “I’m Infected,” “Screw Loose” and “Misery, Agony, Helplessness, Hopelessness, Heartache and Woe.” That, as much as anything, indicates the show’s jovial nature.

-- David A. Rosenberg
May 11, 2008

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