New York — New York -- Only at the cast party for a Broadway musical inspired by John Waters would you find impeccably coifed and gowned drag queens rubbing shoulders with movie stars. Sometimes you could even tell them apart.
Thursday's bash celebrating the opening of Cry-Baby attempted to re-create Baltimore circa 1954 (when the musical is set) in what now is a tony New York venue known as The Mansion. But Waters remembers when the joint had a seedier reputation.
"In the '70s, this was a great S&M; club," he says, his eyes misting over nostalgically.
In a sense, a cast party is a peculiar phenomenon. The event had to be terrifyingly costly, yet it was possessed of all the intimacy of a New York subway at rush hour. Waters found himself surrounded by 20 of his closest friends, and 779 people he'd never met. The hall was so crowded that the only way to find anyone in particular was to send up flares.
Waters, the rest of Cry-Baby's creative team, and the actors may have been too nervous to truly enjoy themselves, especially as they were surrounded by those knife-toothed coyotes, the critics. As Waters himself expressed it: "Who wants to go to a party after you've just given birth?"
Perhaps that's why such famous folk as musicians Deborah Harry and Adam Duritz attended the show's opening, but weren't spotted at the party itself.
Still, it was fun to see celebrities taking in all that once was Charm City alongside such Waters stalwarts as his longtime casting director, Pat Moran, and performers Ricki Lake and Mink Stole.
The Baltimoreans must have had a particular appreciation for the more than 12 square feet of frosting displayed on a platform of its own and created by Duff Goldman, owner of Charm City Cakes.
The cake was divided down the middle by the railroad tracks. The left side (a strawberry shortcake) represented the world of the rebellious Drapes, while the right side (pumpkin chocolate-chip) depicted Charles Village, Roland Park and the well-ordered milieu of the Squares.
Though concocting the cake took nine employees and 360 hours, Duff couldn't wait to start destroying it. "As amazing as this is," he says, "at the end of the day, I want people to understand that this is still dessert."
The evening was divided into different activity areas, all reminiscent of Baltimore during the Cold War era. There was a hula-hoop demonstration area, and a "make-out booth" sponsored by -- who else? -- the manufacturer of Altoids.
There was a makeover station where guests could be transformed into a Drape or a Square; a TastyKake bake sale; and the Our Lady of Citronella High School Picnic, with such 1950s treats as swans carved from Spam, and Meatloaf Surprise. (Across the hall, guests could also nibble on slightly more upscale fare from the era, including Swedish meatballs, tea sandwiches and crab puffs.)
Designer Nicole Miller put in an appearance, as did actress Fran Drescher and playwright Paula Vogel. Such Old Guard standouts as Academy Award winner Estelle Parsons mingled with boy-band veteran Ashley Parker Angel, formerly of O-Town, and Chris March, the lovable fourth-place finisher on the most recent season of Project Runway.
Kathleen Turner, who starred in Waters' film Serial Mom, tried, without success, to pull her former director onto the dance floor.
"John is the sweetest man," she said. "He has an extraordinary gift of taking very unattractive people and making you love them. When we were shooting that film, we laughed every day. He created his own film house without the help of the studios, and that's really unique."
Waters was able to exchange a few words with his longtime pal David Byrne, formerly of the Talking Heads.
"I've known David forever," Waters says. "His parents live in Baltimore, and he used to come to my Christmas parties every year."
Byrne was accompanied by his latest love, the MacArthur Award-winning photographer and director Cindy Sherman, who had a cameo in Waters' film Pecker.
At precisely 11:16 p.m., the entire party joined together to sing a rousing chorus of "Happy Birthday" to Waters, who celebrated his 62nd birthday on Tuesday.
And after that, it was home to bed for the film director, who wasn't about to allow even a Broadway opening alter his established daily routine.
What, no after-after party?
"No," Waters said. "I have to get up at 6:30 in the morning to write."