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Review: Roxy Regional Theatre's CRY-BABY: THE MUSICAL Serves Up Swell Summer Fun

After Far Too Long, CRY-BABY Comes to LIfe in Middle Tennessee

Review: Roxy Regional Theatre's CRY-BABY: THE MUSICAL Serves Up Swell Summer Fun

It seems rather ironic that in the same week that Johnny Depp and Amber Heard were attempting to annihilate each other in a court of law that a Broadway musical of recent vintage - based upon a 1990 John Waters film that capitalized on Mr. Depp's then-rather-dewy-eyed insolence for its mainstream appeal - would finally make its Middle Tennessee debut. Yet, alas, that is one of the sheer delights found in regional theater and we are finally able to say we've seen Cry-Baby: The Musical after far too long a time.

Now onstage through June 18 at Clarksville's Roxy Regional Theatre, Cry-Baby: The Musical (which played a brief 2008 Broadway run) is a riff on Romeo and Juliet that takes place during the age of polio vaccinations, Pinko Commie malcontents and the overzealous construction of flimsy, at-home shelters that promised protection from atomic blasts and somehow typified the Eisenhower era of the post-war 1950s.

Could there possibly be better way to kick off your summer season revelries than with a sprightly, sparkly - though we daresay totally bonkers in all the best ways - musical theater confection based on an equally wacky John Waters film? And while Cry-Baby: The Musical may not be as joyful and as certain of its intentions as Hairspray, the better-known and more-beloved musical based on a Waters film, nonetheless it packs a whole lot of fun in its two hours of fast-paced, onstage entertainment.

Directed with finesse by Ryan Bowie, whose affection for the material is obvious, and featuring the always expressive choreography of Emily Rourke (whose "Jailyard Jubilee" number is bold, athletic and uber-theatrical), Cry-Baby: The Musical makes no pretense of being life-changing, epoch-shattering or in the least bit serious. Rather than pummeling audiences with too much message, it succeeds on its own light-hearted merits by allowing you to fall in love with its colorfully zany cast of characters, who are inspired from pulp fiction of the pop culture zeitgeist of the period in which it takes place.

Review: Roxy Regional Theatre's CRY-BABY: THE MUSICAL Serves Up Swell Summer Fun Set in Waters' beloved Baltimore, with scenes evoking memories of the era - let's face it, any show that kicks off with an "Anti-Polio Picnic," with references to fallout shelters and designer-issued gas masks is sure to be swell! - and making reference to local sites that Marylanders still recall with affection, it features an entertaining, if not quite memorable, score (with music by Adam Schlesinger, lyrics by David Javerbaum) and an accessible, if sometimes muddled, book (by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan of Hairspray fame).

But make no mistake about it: Even if Cry-Baby: The Musical is not high art, it will most assuredly make you laugh out loud. In fact, you'll leave the theater with a certain joie de vivre in your heart and a definite lightness in the loafers, thanks to its effective skewering of the mores so prevalent among the middle class of that period. And, perhaps surprisingly, upon viewing the show in these times in which we now live, one can easily comprehend the dangers of wishing for what might have been to replace contemporary thought.

As with anything that springs from the fertile imagination of Mr. Waters, the characters of Cry-Baby: The Musical are larger-than-life and altogether strange and unique, although their individual characteristics are somewhat toned down from their cinematic counterparts. Waters' skewed, off-kilter take on 1950s morality remains intact, providing a lot of fun and amusement which seems appropriate for a musical in which the climax actually happens at an amusement park!

As a native Marylander, Bowie seems particularly well-suited to helm a production of Cry-Baby: The Musical and his record of delivering the goods - no matter what his assignment might be - plays out once more with a show that is wonderfully cast, exuberantly performed and eye-poppingly designed (his Baltimore is a blue-and-white gingham wonderland).

Review: Roxy Regional Theatre's CRY-BABY: THE MUSICAL Serves Up Swell Summer Fun
Matthew Combs, Stacy Turner and Caitlyn Porayko

Starring Matthew Combs as the eponymous Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker (leader of "the Drapes" and a heartbreaking, crooning romantic lead whose edges aren't all that rough, truth be told) and Caitlyn Porayko as Allison Vernon-Williams (the good girl who desperately wants to take a walk on the wild side), the show's characters are brought to life with aplomb and wit, yet no one overplays their part - what's the point of making a caricature of cartoonish figures anyway? - and in doing so, everyone in the cast exudes more than a little period authenticity and accessibility.

Both Combs and Porayko are ideally cast: His cool demeanor masks a sensitive side that ensures everyone either wants to be like him or to be with him and he makes the most of his musical moments with a finely etched portrayal. Porayko, who practically glows with a deft blend of sensuality and innocence as the over-privileged rich girl, has the voice of an angel and fairly exudes stage presence every moment she takes the spotlight. Together, they make a real cute couple.

They are supported by a fine ensemble that includes Roxy veteran Stacy Turner as Mrs. Vernon-Williams (here she's Allison's "aunt" instead of her "grandmother"), Donald Groves as a besotted judicial type, David R. Ridley (given his own deserved musical moments) as Cry-Baby's best mate Dupree Dupree, Emily Rourke pulls double-duty playing Wanda Woodward (one of Cry-Baby's girl gang backup singers) and Aubrie Lauren gives a no-holds-barred portrayal of Pepper Walker (she's Cry-Baby's perpetually pregnant 16-year-old cousin).

Victoria Preisman very nearly steals the entire show (as Mona "Hatchet-Face" Mainorowski), using her big voice to full effect, and Michael Ricciardone is terrifically fun as the dweebish and devilish Baldwin Blandish, the Square who vies for Allison's romantic attentions. Finally, Hannah Lauren Wilson's Lenora Frigid scores with her raucous performance of "Screw Loose."

Cry-Baby: The Musical. Book by Mark O'Donnell and Thomas Meehan. Songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger. Directed by Ryan Bowie. Choreographed by Emily Rourke. Musical direction by Tyler Saunders. Presented by the Roxy Regional Theatre, Clarksville. Through June 18. For tickets, call (931) 645-7699. For more information, go to www.roxyregionaltheatre.org. Running time: 2 hours (with one 15-minute intermission).



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