“Cry-Baby,” the high-spirited and hilariously engaging musical running through Oct. 19 in a New Line Theatre production, includes a prison break. And in these conflicted times, it also gives a much-needed break to the folks watching it.
Theatergoers bring different expectations to musicals than they do to straight plays. There’s something about the experience of characters bursting into song that’s downright liberating. “Death of a Salesman” might offer insight into the meaning of life, but a show with catchy songs, snappy choreography and an energetic cast allows the audience to escape from reality. And isn’t that a lot more fun?
Based on a 1990 movie written and directed by John Waters — whose 1988 film “Hairspray” also inspired a stage musical — “Cry-Baby” is the story of Wade Walker (Caleb Miofsky), a charismatic but troubled teenager from the wrong side of the tracks. Clearly, there’s quite a bit of Elvis and ’50s-era Marlon Brando in his DNA.
Wade, who has acquired the nickname “Cry-Baby,” has no trouble attracting the attention of Allison (Grace Langford), a good girl who yearns to be bad. Struggling to keep Allison in line is her pithy grandmother (Margeau Steinau).
As Cry-Baby sorts out his relationship with Allison, he must deal not only with her grandmother’s disapproval but also a stint in the slammer.
With a book by Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan, and songs by David Javerbaum and Adam Schlesinger, “Cry-Baby” rocks. Directors Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor apply the trademark, lightheartedly irreverent New Line touch to the show, which the company first produced in 2012. And they elicit spot-on performances — particularly from Miofsky and Langford, who play off each other wonderfully.
Also contributing significantly to the show’s success are the choreography by Michelle Sauer and the music direction by Nicolas Valdez and Marc Vincent.
Some musicals enter the theatrical canon — a shortlist might include “Cabaret,” “Oklahoma!” and “West Side Story.” Others merely aspire to leave audiences smiling, and on that level “Cry-Baby” delivers.