Writer and director John Waters’ 1990 teen rom-com, Cry-Baby, is a cult classic. The film came off the back of 1988’s Hairspray, which inspired the 2003 multi-Tony Award-winning musical of the same name. Cry-Baby itself later found its way to the stage as a musical, premiering in 2007, and while it certainly didn’t come close to achieving the blockbuster status of Hairspray, the Broadway production earned four Tony nominations, including Best Musical. Now, Cry-Baby is playing at Sydney’s Hayes Theatre Co, presented by LPD and directed by Alexander Berlage.
Set in Baltimore in 1954, Cry-Baby is the story of the straight-laced squares, who cling to conformity and conservatism, and revile the Drapes, the delinquent group led by the ‘too cool for school’ orphan ‘Cry-Baby’ Wade Walker (Christian Charisiou) – he’s the clichéd bad boy with more to him than most think. But in the grand tradition of the warring Capulets and Montagues, Wade finds love with a naïve square, Allison (Ashleigh Rubenach). This is much to the dismay of Allison’s speciously unimpeachable boyfriend and leader of the squares, Baldwin (Joel Granger), and the unbalanced Lenora (Laura Murphy), who is unhealthily devoted to Walker. Wade’s and Allison’s taboo relationship quickly has consequences for him and the Drapes, the undoing of which ultimately leads to the uncovering of a startling revelation.
From opening number ‘The Anti-Polio Picnic’, the tone is set for a musical that is high camp, completely farcical and enormously entertaining. It’s dark and seditious in spirit and director Alexander Berlage (who directed the brilliantly bizarre There Will be a Climax at the Old Fitz earlier this year) proves himself the ideal choice to lead proceedings. He succeeds in ensuring the production and its tremendous cast coax every laugh conceivable from the book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, and the lyrics by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger; and his guiding of the cast makes Cry-Baby every bit as outlandish as Waters could hope.
Making his Hayes debut, Charisiou is highly charismatic as ‘Cry-Baby’ Wade Walker, giving us something of a James Dean-meets-Danny Zukko portrayal, backed up by a strong vocal performance. Rubenach hits all the right notes (both in her acting and vocals) as the wide-eyed and virtuous Allison. Granger admirably portrays the sanctimonious suck-up, Baldwin, while Murphy makes good use of her sizeable skills as the manic and fixated Lenora, making light work of the aptly-titled ‘Screw Loose’. As ‘Jukebox Jamboree’ emcee, Dupree, Alfie Gledhill is another strong performer in a cast that has no weak link.
But top honours go to Beth Daly who, as Mrs Vernon-Williams, Allison’s grandmother, is a constant scene-stealer. President of the Baltimore Women’s Club and a highly respected member of the community, Vernon-Williams is gifted many of the shows best lines, but it’s Daly’s exceptional delivery that makes her performance a standout.
Set designer Isabel Hudson has followed up her work on The View UpStairs earlier in the year (one of the best sets we’ve seen to date at the Hayes), creating a wonderfully cartoonish backdrop that brings time and place to life with vibrancy. Similarly, Mason Browne’s costumes both reflect the era and incorporate humour. Berlage’s terrific lighting choices complement the on-stage design elements while also creating a sense of enhancing the production’s already high-energy. And leading a small but tight band of four, Nicholas Griffin has his players rocking the room with an impressive and surprisingly powerful reproduction of the score.
Cry-Baby at the Hayes is a skilfully created and performed production that represents a remarkable debut for Berlage as a musical theatre director. After experiencing what he’s achieved here, the prospect of a Berlage-led production of American Psycho (a musical he was slated to direct this year prior to the show’s postponement) is even more exciting.
CRY-BABY – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point
Season: Until 19 August, 2018
Times: Tue-Sat 7.30pm, Sat & Sun 2pm
Price: $69 Adult, $64 Concession
Bookings: hayestheatre.com.au | (02) 8065 7337