Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Jul 20 – Aug 19, 2018
Book: Thomas Meehan, Mark O’Donnell (based on the John Waters film)
Songs: David Javerbaum, Adam Schlesinger
Director: Alexander Berlage
Cast: Brooke Almond, Hayden Baum, Christian Charisiou, Beth Daly, Blake Erickson, Bronte Florian, Alfie Gledhill, Aaron Gobby, Joel Granger, Manon Gunderson-Briggs, Amy Hack, Laura Murphy, Ashleigh Rubenach, Ksenia Zofi
Images by Robert Catto
It is 1950s Baltimore, in Maryland, USA, and the township is split into the straitlaced “squares” and their arch nemesis, the delinquent “drapes”. Cry-Baby is an Elvis-type drape singer who has won the heart of Allison, queen of the squares, for a tale of forbidden love and culture clashes, in the tradition of Romeo And Juliet, West Side Story, and Grease. Originally a 1990 film by the King of Bad Taste, John Waters, this 2007 musical is a spruced up, dumbed down version as though the squares have co-opted Cry-Baby, for a retell of the story in their own style and aesthetic. This is, essentially, John Waters for the mainstream.
An exceedingly sharp and polished production, designed by Isabel Hudson (set) and Mason Browne (costumes), Baltimore is on this occasion, turned into a dazzling candy-cane Disney theme park, where even the poor looks camera-ready for the pages of Vogue. Director Alexander Berlage proves himself adept at manufacturing atmosphere and energy for the stage, but is unable to find for the piece, any emotional or intellectual depth that will allow for a more substantial experience, beyond an appreciation of all its very enthusiastic display of light and froth.
Christian Charisiou and Ashleigh Rubenach lead the cast, both Ken-and-Barbie-perfect in all that they bring, complete with the exhilarating singing of very high notes, that we have come to expect of the genre. Most memorable is Laura Murphy, incredibly delightful as Lenora, the only subversive element of the show, gleefully representing the cult of Waters in exquisite form. Other standouts include Amy Hack who embodies an assertive libidinal power that reminds us of the show’s queer origins, and Blake Erickson who amps up the camp factor in all his multi-gendered parts, to our immense satisfaction.
When overzealous french kissing is the dirtiest thing in a show, we know that it has deviated far, far away from the John Waters milieu. It is true that we can be polite when making art, that there is no need for the crude and obscene to surface in everything we put on stage, but Waters’ devotees will encounter an air of sacrilege at the Cry-Baby musical that is perhaps unbearable.
For others however, it is a wonderful reprieve from the daily humdrum, of colour, movement and a fantastic pop sensibility, that champions the optimism and vitality of youth at its best. The younger we are, the easier it is to demolish attitudes of prejudice and hate. There is no question that the differences between tribes, drapes and squares and so forth, can be reconciled, when we realise that the amount we have in common are infinitely greater, than the things we dream up to keep us apart.