'Cry-Baby' at Slayton House in Columbia will make you smile

Howard County Times

Baltimore film director John Waters evolved from underground notoriety to more-or-less mainstream acceptance. A sure sign of it is that two of his movies have been adapted into big-budget musicals. The one that everybody has heard of is “Hairspray,” which was a smash on Broadway and continues to be staged at theaters both large and small. Although the other one, “Cry-Baby,” was a critical and commercial disappointment, perhaps now is a good time for it to have another chance.

Silhouette Stages’ continuously entertaining production of “Cry-Baby” makes a trip to Slayton House Theater well worth your time. This show is not as musically memorable and satirically clever as “Hairspray,” but there is still a lot to enjoy. The basic story works within the Waters’ tradition of having social outcasts go up against the squares who set the rules and the period setting allows that rather basic plot to be backed by a musical beat that mimics the pop music of the late 1950s.

In musical theater terms, this means you can expect a delinquent hero clad in blue jeans, a white T-shirt and a black leather jacket to go up against sweater-clad squares who look like they should be singing back-up for Pat Boone. There are plenty of opportunities for high school-age characters to sport colorful costumes, form what amounts to a chorus line and perform songs whose satirical jabs are couched within a nostalgic musical vocabulary.

The musical’s book by Thomas Meehan and Mark O’Donnell may not exactly aim high in terms of character development and social commentary, but it knows how to make you happy as it skims the surface. The music and lyrics by Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum have a generic quality that lacks the inspired songs in “Hairspray,” but there’s much pleasure to be had as the songs are done. Just don’t expect to be humming them on the drive home. Although the second act in particular sags when it comes to creative energy, you’ve already emotionally engaged with these characters and won’t have any trouble watching as “Cry-Baby” reaches its reassuringly predictable conclusion.

What makes the Silhouette Stages’ production directed and choreographed by Tommy Malek so much fun to watch is that it has a first-rate performance in the central role that was originated by Johnny Depp in the Waters’ movie.

The character, Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker, is a guitar-slinging young man who isn’t looking for trouble but who finds it. Civic authorities don’t trust him and not just because his late parents were pacifists reputed to be communists. Girls like him, because he’s good-looking and has a seemingly dangerous edge.

This production is sparked by the performer embodying “Cry-Baby” Walker, Michael Nugent, who convincingly looks, acts and sings like a 1950s-vintage teen angel or devil, depending on who you ask in Walker’s hometown of Baltimore. Nugent’s musical numbers are vigorous as he channels a rock spirit that seems to be a fusion of Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Walker’s love interest, Allison Vernon-Williams (Lindsey Litka), is a sweet-natured teen who has been a good girl for so long that she’s intrigued by Walker. As Allison says: “I’m a good girl, but I don't want to be.”

As a musical duo, Nugent and Litka have charisma to spare in numbers including “I’m Infected,” “Misery” and “Baby, Baby, Baby.”

Supporting players in this production have their share of solo highlights, but it’s really the ensemble numbers where they get to shine. Accompanied by a band under musical director Nathan C. Scavilla, the assorted characters have a great time with such numbers as “Anti-Polio Picnic,” “You Can’t Beat the System” and “Nothing Bad.”

It’s not as musically accomplished as “Hairspray,” but it’s nothing to cry about. In fact, there is much to make you smile here.

“Cry-Baby” has its remaining performances Oct. 20, 21, 27 and 28 at 8 p.m., and Oct. 22 and 29 at 3 p.m. at Slayton House Theater, 10400 Cross Fox Lane in Wilde Lake Village Center in Columbia. For ticket info, go to www.silhouettestages.com

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