BWW Review: CRY BABY at Te Auaha - Tapere Nui (Big Theatre), Wellington
Reviewed by Lindsey Rusling
Directed and Choreographed by Leigh Evans
Musical Director: Kate Marshall
Cry-Baby the Musical is a twisted take on the 1950's rock n' roll, teen rebel genre. Originally a cult film by John Waters (writer and director of Hairspray) starring a young, gorgeous and moody Johnny Depp, Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker (Matt Mulholland) is the epitome of teenage disillusionment and social estrangement leading his outcast gang of "Drapes" in Baltimore, USA in a class war against the innocent, wealthy, society kids or "Squares". Enter beautiful, virtuous Allison (Flora Dryburgh) and Wade is smitten. Can there be a future for these two kids from different sides of the tracks?
Critics opinions' have often been mixed as regards this quirky musical where the satirical, 'tongue-in-cheek' aspect has not been well defined. This production, however, creates fabulously over-the-top and fully-realised characterisations that are hilarious, rowdy, raucous and completely irreverent.
From the vibrant opening number (The Anti-Polio Picnic), the cast let rip with power and passion that does not drop throughout. Each performer grabs every moment with intensity and commitment to showcase their learning and talent while displaying their devotion to the craft. The lyrics are crisp, witty and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny if not cringe-worthy. (I dare anyone not to watch "Girl, Can I Kiss You....?" through their fingers.) The rockabilly score adds energy and pep and the music (with band skilfully led by Musical Director, Kate Marshall) is immaculate.
The set is simple, but eye-popping, in blues, pinks and purples with scaffolding, chairs and curtain revealing a backdrop of lightbulbs and a set of stairs for levels. Costume and make-up pops with colourful, rich, vivid materials and plentiful changes creating a sumptuous visual treat.
Leigh Evans, both Director and Choreographer, shows her impeccable expertise at staging, dance and detail, making the best use of the space for a huge cast. The professional dance numbers and stunning use of conventions such as slow motion, frozen dramatic poses and chorus of movement adds to the excitement and fun for the audience and I hope that the students recognise the amazing opportunity of working with someone of her calibre.
Mulholland does not have the look of a 50s teen heartthrob and his "Cry-Baby" is more romantic than rebel, but his outstanding comic timing, beautiful singing and believability make him thoroughly empathetic. Dryburgh lends Allison more determination, curiosity and spirit than similar stereotypical characters and along with a stellar vocal, depicts a convincing relationship with her lead man as well as her eccentric Grandmother, Mrs Vernon Williams (an impressive Malea Nicholson).
Moana Leota, Jade Thomson and Caitlin Penrose are the three girls in Wade's gang. Like sultry and rebellious Shangri-Las, the girls are formidable and liberated with powerhouse voices, strong harmonies and a wonderfully intense characterisation by Thomson as Hatchet-Face. Fipe Foai as Dupree also bought incredible riffs, commitment and hilarity in a truly enjoyable performance.
Devon Neiman is dazzling as the geeky, uptight "Baldwin" with manic and frenetic physicality and he is well matched by the delightfully unhinged Lenora (Lane Corby) who both exhibited their abundant vocal skills throughout, particularly in their duet "All In My Head".
I hear that the season is a well-deserved sell-out. If you can beg a ticket in the last few days, try - it's a silly, side-splitting, sensational smash!
Presented by Musical Theatre Students as part of their 2019 Programme of Study
Te Auaha - Tapere Nui (Big Theatre), 65 Dixon Street, Te Aro, Wellington
Until 14 September 2019