Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cry Baby (or any other show out there...)

As far as I can tell, Broadway producer types always seem to be copying each other, eyeing the next big thing on the coat tails of the current big thing. The thinking goes, to use one current trend as an example: If one jukebox musical is wildly successful (Mamma Mia!) let's do one but with the back catalogue of another group.

And poof! We end up with shows like Good Vibrations, All Shook Up, Ring of Fire, We Will Rock You, Lennon, Jersey Boys, Hot Feet, Moving Out and the list goes on and on.. Now if you're lucky lightning can strike twice (is there a week where Jersey Boys isn't playing to 100% capacity?!?) But more often then not, we end up with shows like The Times They Are A Changing.

But this doesn't just happen with juke box musicals. After the success of The Producers, Mel Brooks looked at his movies and decided to turn another of his movies into a musical, Young Frankenstein..

And now, from the success of Hairspray the musical, based on the John Waters' film of the same name comes Cry-Baby the musical which recently opened at the Marquis theatre.

Why such a long intro? Because it's amazing to watch Cry Baby and not think of all these other things happening. The show itself is thoroughly enjoyable and there are some fine performances, especially from the supporting cast, which includes a superb Harriet Harris. But it's no Hairspray.

Of course it's different then Hairspray, so it's a little unfair. Hairspray was a little more a celebration of a bygone era layered with serious overtones. Cry Baby is more satirical and not as emotional as it's more refined, lacquered 60's musical cousin. But with it's cooky characters and subversive humor, and the link between the source material, it's unavoidable.

It's a shame that Hairspray happened. If it didn't, Cry Baby might be a genuine blockbuster. The same goes for Young Frankenstein.

What's even more odd is that all of these new shows, jukebox or ones based on a movie, have the feel of being recycled. There are very few truly original musical stories right now on Broadway. Passing Strange, In The Heights, and Glory Days are the only brand new musicals this season. The rest are ALL based on a movies. (Okay I guess technically A Catered Affair is based on a made for TV movie, not a motion picture. But that's almost worse...) And with exception to [title of show] all the new entries will be based on movies also.

Being based on a movie doesn't portend instant mediocrity. Some very good shows are based on movies, Sweet Charity, Nine and My Fair Lady* are all based on movies. (*My Fair Lady while credited as being based on the Shaw play is virtually scene for scene the film version of Pygmalion with a screenplay by Shaw.)

But at a time when the musical theatre is dying for something new, and a time when there is seemingly lots of support of new musical writers, why are they all choosing such mediocre material?

The music and lyrics for Cry Baby were written by Fountain Of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger and Daily Show writer David Javerbaum. Nothing against Cry Baby or all the other shows out there. But come on there has to be something better out there. I just wonder what could happened if they teamed up with John Waters and did something original! Now that's something to cry about...

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