Music: Adam Schlesinger
Lyrics: David Javerbaum
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
From its debut on Broadway in 2002 to a massively successful movie version in 2007 and through numerous tours and regional productions, the musical Hairspray (based on the John Waters movie) has quickly become a modern day classic. Waters’ kitsch sensibilities proved perfect fodder for a gloriously fun and bubbly musical and the production team came together to produce something magical. This success inevitably lead to Cry Baby: The Musical.
Like Hairspray, Cry Baby is based on a John Waters movie. It also shares several other creatives, namely Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan who adapted both movies for the stage. Thematically, both stories have similarities although Cry Baby lacks the strong social commentary that runs through Hairspray. This, coupled with a different composer are what separates a great show from an okay one.
Set in 1954 the plot is a variation on the tale of Romeo and Juliet with Capulets and Montagues replaced with ‘squares’ and rebel-without-a-cause delinquents The Drapes. This musical debuted on Broadway in 2008 and despite four Tony nominations, disappeared within a few months. Mixed reviews and the aforementioned comparisons with its predecessor seemed to doom it to a short life, but was that justified?
This recording offers an interesting slant on the original soundtrack recording in that the cast have been reassembled seven years later to produce a studio recording of the score – or at least most of them, the CD cover proclaiming that it features “88.4% of the original Broadway cast”.
David Javerbaum’s lyrics are exceptional. His long career as a comedy writer shines through and his lyrics are often laugh-out-loud funny, particularly in the numbers sung by the ‘squares’ such as Squeaky Clean (“Promise me Venus / I’ll get to show her my squeaky…. cleanness”). Adam Schlesinger’s music unfortunately can’t quite keep up with such wit and invention. It’s not bad, but it isn’t particularly great either. All of the songs are fun while they last, but none are particularly musically memorable. The rockabilly and Elvis-inspired themes of the Drapes’ songs are clearly defined and the close harmonies of the ‘square’ songs are fun, but there is nothing that lingers in the memory. There are certainly no real showstoppers like You Can’t Stop the Beat or I Know Where I’m Going from (guess what?) Hairspray.
The cast are all very good and are clearly having great fun revisiting the score. Harriet Harris stands out as Mrs Cordelia Vernon-Williams, the monstrous town matriarch who reveals a dark past in the amusing I Did Something Wrong… Once. James Snyder channels Elvis as the titular character, and Elizabeth Stanley is both sweet and funny as his love interest Allison.
Cry Baby‘s biggest burden is the success of Hairspray and the inevitable comparisons that this show will never win. This is a pity because there is plenty to enjoy here, and without the ghost of its older sister hovering over it (and a little more effort with the music) Cry Baby could have been a contender. Just like the films that the shows are based on, Hairspray is the hit while Cry Baby: The Musical is destined for cult status.